The Truth About Third-Party Data Collection

April 19, 2024

Ever feel like the internet is following you around? You browse for vintage cocktail shakers, and suddenly every ad screams “shaken, not stirred”? You search for a new stroller on your phone and suddenly every Instagram ad is about pacifiers and cribs?

That is both the magic and mayhem of third-party data collectors.

It doesn’t matter what search engine you use…Whether it’s Google, Safari or Firefox, these platforms are designed not only to help you find relevant information based on everything from your demographic to your location; but they also help the rest of the Internet cater to your particular needs and interests.

They gather crumbs of your digital life – websites you visit, links that you click on, apps downloaded, and even what you buy online. This intel gets thrown into a big database, forming a profile all about you. Aside from the potential for hackers to exploit one of these massive databases directly, there’s also the much more likely chance that all that information will be sold to third-party collectors that want to use it for advertisements and their own financial gain.

Sound like a phishing scheme? It’s actually completely legal.

Now, maybe you already try to stay one step ahead by toggling on different settings to limit data collection to certain information or websites. What you may not expect, however, is that fine print, which declares that the search engine (or other website) is allowed to collect and sell your cookies to outside businesses. These are the third-party companies accessing and leveraging your Internet history and personal data, usually to generate revenue.

So, the next time you see laser-targeted ads, you can thank these shadowy data collectors (and maybe take it as a cue to update all of your privacy settings).

What exactly are they gathering, anyway? Collected information may include:

  • Demographics (age, location, income)
  • Browsing habits (websites you visit, things you click on)
  • Purchase history (what you buy online)
  • Interests (hobbies, favorite brands)

The good news is that more and more data privacy regulations, like GDPR and CCPA, give users more control over their information. It’s a fight, but we’re slowly moving in the right direction. Remember, technology always evolves faster than the legislation surrounding it!

You can take steps toward greater data privacy on your own, too.

  • Manage your own online privacy. Those cookies and trackers websites use to follow you? You can adjust your browser settings to block them and exercise more control over who can see, sell and exploit your online data.
  • Review policies before signing off. When you’re flying past those terms and conditions, don’t just click “accept” blindly. Read those privacy policies to understand how your data is being collected and used. Knowledge is power!
  • Install more privacy tools: There are tools out there that block tracking and help you manage your online privacy. Be a tech-savvy data defender by getting to know the weapons that could be in your arsenal.

By understanding third-party data collectors and their tactics, you can become a data defense champion and protect your privacy in this wide and wild online world. Stay safe, stay informed, and keep enjoying all your favorite websites without fear of being digitally stalked by hungry third-party data collectors.

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