A look at how large corporations are collecting and analyzing user data.
Last year, in May, the EU data privacy laws (GDPR) kicked in. The gist of the regulation was that all organizations or corporations operating within the EU must ask for consent to collect user data and that they must also implement measures such as anonymization and pseudonymization to protect this personal data.
In the US state of California, data privacy laws also kicked in in 2018. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is similar to GDPR with slight variations.
While these are steps in the right direction with regards to data privacy, there is no denying that large corporations are still collecting personal user data in droves and most people have no idea how. The stark reality is that our privacy is being eroded, and there’s no telling how grim a future we’re heading towards.
Here are some ways that large organizations are collecting data
1. Through cookies
You’ve probably seen the word cookies in your browser. In the simplest of terms, cookies are pieces of text stored in the browser, and they locally store information about you including your preferences.
These pieces of text help a site to track visitors, differentiate between single page visits and multiple visits, and keep you logged in. That means cookies are the reason you do not need to reset your password every day.
Heatmaps are divided into two—eye-tracking heatmaps and mouse-tracking heatmaps. Mouse-tracking heatmaps denote a graphical representation of the areas people hover over with a mouse or trackpad on a site.
The idea is that users are more interested in the areas they hover over. On the other hand, eye-tracking heatmaps involve analyzing your user interface to determine the areas that interest you in a particular site.
While this kind of data is highly inaccurate, it is still one more way that organizations are collecting data about your preferences and what you interested in.
3. GPS tracking
Note that anytime you check-in on social media or download an app, or give permission to an app for location access, then your location data is stored.
Admittedly, this is not necessarily a bad thing because such data is the reason you can locate your phone or device when you misplace it, not to mention, getting a timely promotion that allows you to purchase just what you needed at an affordable price.
However, bear in mind that most of these companies that collect location data have recently come under fire for lack of transparency on what they are doing with your data.
Consider for a second, a company that has collected tons of your GPS data over time. If they then sell this data to an insurance company, the insurance company can use the data of where you spend most of your time in conjunction with other information they know about you to conclude you are too much of a risk.
In turn, the insurance company will deny you a particular insurance claim or hike your premium. Therein lies the danger of unchecked data collection and analysis.
4. Credit and loyalty cards
One of the most straightforward ways of getting customers to hand over their personal information.
Over time, the card provider will accumulate an incredible amount of data that details preferences, the kind of promotions a customer is likely to respond to, and even the days they prefer to shop.
The organization will then use the data to tailor marketing campaigns and make them more individualized.
Verdict, what does the future hold?
One thing you will notice from above is that the data these organizations collect benefits from the user as well. For instance, cookies provide convenience, and GPS tracking has given rise to new technologies.
Moreover, emerging technologies like big data or the Internet of Things are also of benefit to the user. Thanks to these benefits, people will probably continue demanding for technologies that arise due to better analysis of data. In turn, the invasion of privacy is bound to increase.
It is, therefore, up to you to learn the basics of privacy protection and to research privacy-oriented tools that will help you maintain your privacy.
One of those tools is a VPN. A Virtual Private Network takes care of your internet privacy by encrypting all your communications over the internet and making it gibberish for anyone who intercepts the data.
Moreover, because you are behind the safety of your VPN provider’s servers, corporations and governments cannot track you even if they tried. Bear in mind that VPN providers use 256-bit encryption which is impossible to hack. An important thing to remember is that not all VPNs are made equal. Some are spyware or malware waiting to capture your traffic data, so be sure to spend time looking for a VPN that is safe to download.
Finally, you can also use private browsers and anonymous search engines. A good example of a private browser is Tor, and one of the most popular anonymous search engine in use today is DuckDuckgo. Both these tools do not keep a history of what you are doing on the internet. You can even use a privacy-focused Linux distro like Tails.