Who Can Use Your Personal Information and Why?

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Most people would be staggered by the amount of personal information available online. Your browser collects information constantly about where you go, what you do, what information you share and who you interact with. So what鈥檚 out there . . . and who wants it?

Your likes, dislikes, and buying habits are tremendously valuable to marketers and analysts. It is reasonable to assume that nearly every website you visit is recording information, from how long you spend on a page to what brand of socks you prefer. All of that data is for sale.

The Outsell Information Industry Outlook 2017 report comes to a startling conclusion: the number one growth opportunity in the $1.5 trillion-dollar information industry is data monetization. In an economy awash in information, the biggest cash cow is your personal data.

It may be collected by your browser, the search engine you use, the website you visit, or the ecommerce tools you use. Data brokers love this level of detail. Marketing analysis programs use this kind of data to predict what you will want next, and to upsell with products you鈥檙e likely to be interested in as you鈥檙e filling a shopping cart. If you buy Game of Thrones volumes 1 and 2, predictive analysis assumes you鈥檒l be in the market for volume 3 soon. You鈥檒l start seeing ads related to Game of Thrones books and other merchandise on Facebook, website ads, and possibly even in your email. This kind of targeted marketing works, and works well. Random ads are far more annoying than ads for things you鈥檙e likely to buy. Plus, you get to find out about related products. As it turns out, there are Game of Thrones comic books! Who knew? (not me)

People-search sites cull personal information from a variety of sources...and it can be a bit scary. The information comes from public records, social media, and other sources, and may include your:

路 Address and past addresses

路 Phone and mobile numbers

路 Age & Birthdate

路 Relatives

路 Arrest record

路 Court records

路 Schools you attended

路 Voter registration

The sites make money by charging people to access your personal records, but users can often get quite a lot of pertinent info for free.

Banking services collect data as well, like social security number, account balances and transaction history, credit history and investment experience personal info, including work experience.

Contrary to what most people believe, you don鈥檛 have to register for a site for them to collect data. They know who you are. Your browser and browser plugins give you away. 鈥淎nonymous鈥 data is usually possible to de-anonymize and identify users. Each thing you do is another clue that programs can sift and combine to create a complete picture of everything about you. There is even speculation that Facebook is listening through your microphone. Talk about creepy! Have you ever thought about why you have to give permissions for apps to access your microphone?

It鈥檚 not easy to remove personal info from broker sites that make money from selling your data, but there are a few steps you can take.

1. Stop giving permission. One notorious method of giving permission to data collectors is through games, apps, and quizzes. Before you accidentally give away access to your info and your friend list to find out what pirate you were in a past life or who your celebrity soulmate is, think about the level of access the program is asking for. Do you really want to give permission for them to post on your wall or contact your friends?

2. Review your security settings and permissions you鈥檝e already given. Most people say yes to participate in some fun little activity, and then never review their security settings again. You may be supplying new information to a data collection site you gave permission to many years ago. Here鈥檚 a great resource page from the University of Texas that explains How to Manage Your Social Media Privacy Settings for all the major social media sites.

3. Remove information from Google. If you want to remove a photo, profile link, or webpage from Google Search results, you usually need to ask the web site owner (webmaster) to remove the information. See Google鈥檚 Removals Policies to learn what information Google will remove. If the webmaster of a site that has posted sensitive information about you (social security number or bank account numbers) refuses to remove it, you can send a legal request to Google to have it removed.

4. Scrub your information from people search. There are some reliable online privacy protection and identity management companies that offer services that can remove any and all personal details. OneRep has a free automatic data search to find websites offering your personal data. If you subscribe to their service, they will remove your personal data from more than 60 websites.

5. Turn on private browsing on your mobile phone and on your browser. Private or anonymous browsing options allow you to search the web without passing your information via the web headers and cookies companies can use to identify you and pinpoint your browsing habits.

If you鈥檙e worried about your privacy, you should be. An unbelievable amount of data already is already available, and as the Internet of Things grows, the amount of information companies know about you will get deeper and more potentially dangerous.

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