Are you familiar with Datalogix and Acxiom? These companies are the two giants of the personal data industry. It is estimated that this industry generates $300 billion a year by gathering and selling data, including your basic contact information, shopping habits, online behaviors, interests, or employment and earning information.
Your information is gathered by some of the retailers you shop at and some of the websites you use. Organizations that collect and sell your information also include the DMV and the main credit reporting agencies.
In this day and age, there is no way to completely protect your personal information, given that selling and buying data has become a common practice.
Knowing that some companies have detailed records that include your personal data and habits can be alarming, but most data buyers only use this information for marketing purposes.
Your personal information can, for instance, be used to send you pre-screened offers, show you some targeted ads based on your interests, or to determine the kind of products or services you’re likely to find interesting.
Even so, there are a few things you can do to protect your privacy:
- Ensure the sites that you share information on are properly encrypted. This includes shopping sites, online job applications, and any site that requires you to enter your personal information. The URL should begin with HTTPS and you should see a padlock icon next to it.
- Be careful with the websites you visit. Any website owner can collect personal information such as your name, address, phone number, and shopping and browsing habits by using cookies and web beacons. It is best not to visit sites that don’t seem trustworthy.
- Be aware of the cookies present on your computer and delete them once in a while. Websites can use three types of cookies to track your activities:
- Session cookies, which keep track of what you do during a session and expire once you stop browsing a site. These cookies don’t gather or share your personal information.
- Persistent cookies, which remain on your hard drive in the form of text files and can keep tracking what you do online besides saving your log in information for the next time you visit the website.
- Third-party ad-serving cookies, also known as web bugs, which track everything you do online to show you more relevant ads. These cookies are present in the form of graphic files on a webpage and can be intrusive since they are designed to record all your online activities.
The Federal Trade Commission gives you the possibility to opt out from receiving certain types of pre-screened offers from marketing companies. Visit the official FTC website to learn more about the opt-out programs.
Consider using a web browser like Mozilla Firefox that is designed to protect your privacy by blocking third-party, ad-serving cookies. Always ask yourself if a website or organization really needs the information they want you to provide.
The best strategy for keeping your information private is to use your common sense, avoid revealing too much about yourself online, and never assume that what you do online will remain private.