The biggest corporations in today’s time are all online. And considering how lucrative it is to sell content to people on digital platforms, one can’t help but say that the status of these corporations is rather obvious.
However, what isn’t obvious is how the two biggest online businesses namely Facebook and Google have such high figures in the stock market when neither of them is a paid service. Well, the answer is simple. All their market value is in the user data that they hold.
They track everything each user does on their platform(s) and restructure their profile accordingly. For example, if you search for “dumbbells” on Google, the application will store that information and use it to show you ads related to dumbbells. Not only that, but they will also forward all your data for smaller corporations to use for their advantage.
Now that you know how every word you type online is used as leverage for online businesses to make money, let us now see to what levels your personal data is exchanged online. But before we get to it, what exactly is personal data?
In simple words, it is any information that can be used to track/identify a particular user. Some personal data examples are username, surname, home address, phone number, E-Mail address, etc. Even data as minuscule as your cookie ID falls under personal data.
When it comes to websites such as Google and Facebook, you can somewhat trust them to use your personal data with care. However, we can’t overlook the fact that not only do these websites use your data for their own purposes but also exchange it between them.
Plenty of smaller corporations buy personal data from larger firms so that they can use them as well. Hence, you can never know where your data might reach. Even if the smaller corporation that gets your data is legitimate, the more places your data travels to, the more susceptible it becomes from being used with malicious intent. In this article, we’ll be covering 3 ways your personal data is leaked online and also how you can avoid it from happening.
1. Browsing the internet on an unencrypted network such as a public Wi-Fi
In today’s time, it is very easy to get on the internet considering that every second shop has free public Wi-Fi of their own. While as a user, you might think that being able to use free internet is quite a pleasure to have, you should also know that it comes with a variety of risks. But how exactly?
Unlike your local internet service, free Wi-Fi hotspots are open for everyone to use. Hence, the provider doesn’t usually encrypt the data that is exchanged while being on their network. This makes it very easy for hackers to initiate cyberattacks and steal all the data exchanged within the network.
Not only that, but the big corporations over the internet can easily steal your personal data and use it for their own good. To make sure that your data is safe even on a public network, we recommend using a virtual private network service. VPNs can encrypt your data by hiding your IP address. They will also switch you to a dedicated network where all your data is encrypted and immune from anyone with malicious intent.
2. Incorrect privacy settings
Call it a lack of user proactiveness or just absolute cunningness shown by online firms, but privacy settings are something most of us tend to overlook while signing up on any given platform. On default, most platforms set your personal data to be visible to the public. Let’s take Facebook for example. Unless you actually go into your privacy settings and hide your phone number, even people who aren’t in your friend list can check that information and use it with malicious intent.
Unlike secondary encryption services, privacy settings can be found within the app in hand. Some apps even let you privatize your profile to the point that only a specific number of users can view information within it. Therefore, it is very easy for a user to personalize their profile data according to their own preferences and only show information that they are willing to reveal.
3. Metadata from social media activities
Earlier in the article, we discussed how big corporations use your personal data to make profits and why you need to do your best in stopping them from doing so. However, you can only do so much as a user especially when it comes to fragile information such as your metadata.
But what is metadata? In simple words, it is the secondary data that constitutes the data exchanged within the internet. For example, you send a message to one of your contacts. Now, the message itself is the primary data but everything else including the phone numbers involved, time of sending the message, location of each user is considered as metadata.
To make sure that your metadata doesn’t get leaked, there are a number of things you can do. First of all, go to your device/app settings and turn off location tracking. This will make sure that no data related to location is sent to an open server. Secondly, you can use extensions such as HTTPS Everywhere and Privacy Badger which will encrypt your data to some extent. Alternatively, you can also look at VPN services or the Tor browser as they will encrypt your data while also ensuring that none of your personal data can be traced.
As the online industry keeps growing, we upload petabytes of personal data on a daily basis. It is only evident that the likelihood of that data being used with malicious intent is quite high. Not only that, but even the big corporations can’t be trusted with personal data as even they tend to exchange user data between them. Therefore, we highly recommend our readers to brush up their skills on online privacy. That is why we came up with an easy-to-follow list of the 3 ways big corporations collect your data and how you can stop them from doing so.