To begin with what exactly is “data collection?” It’s quite a broad term, and really, anything can be considered data collection if you really think about. Technically you’re collecting data when scribbling a few ideas onto a notepad, or the way your phone’s camera collects data from light in the environment when you’re taking a selfie. But data collection of the nefarious kind, however, includes personally identifiable information such as your Social Security number, email address, credit card details, browsing history, search entries, email conversations, medical information, etc. The list is long.
Who Collects My Data?
Which companies or corporations collect your data? For starters, your internet service provider (ISP) certainly does. This may seem like an obvious one since they are the ones who are providing you with your internet connection in the first place. You’re paying them for that service of course, but beyond that, they are making more money off you by selling your internet activity to marketers who use that data to refine and target their online ads. This is true for ISPs in the US, anyway. Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and other big names in the tech industry are all doing the same when you browse their websites or interact on their platforms. If you don’t want these big names tracking exactly what you’re doing, you could use a residential proxy provider like Smartproxy to hide your IP address with another.
Another form of data collection is the old school variety such as public records. Remember that many physical records have been digitized and are available online to the general public. Public records like marriage certificates, birth certificates, criminal records, title deeds, and the like can all be accessed online. If it’s a public record, it can be accessed by anyone. If you’re curious to see what publicly-accessible records exist about you, type in your details on Nuwber and find out.
If after knowing this, you still don’t want to make the effort to read through privacy policies of the websites or apps that you use, you can always use Privacy Monitor. Before checking the box, check out the site’s privacy scores on Privacy Monitor. It will give you an idea of how much the site, or app, cares about your privacy.
Use a Private Messaging Platform
It’s well-known, by now, that Facebook owns WhatsApp (and Instagram) and that the big tech company tracks your online behavior. Chances are, you use – or have used – WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to chat to friends, family, or clients and have shared sensitive information. First, these platforms (including others like Google Hangouts and Snapchat) have somewhat weak data privacy and security practices, even though they’re so popular. The same is true for iMessage and FaceTime.
A private messaging platform that doesn’t mine your data and offers better security is what you need to be looking for to prevent companies from collecting your information. Opt, instead, to use Signal or Telegram. Both these services offer end-to-end encryption, ensuring that your messages stay private. Signal’s own server, for example, cannot access your messages or calls. None of that valuable information can be sold.
Use Ad Blockers and Tracking Blockers
Most ad blockers and tracking blockers are free extensions that can be quickly installed to your browser. Remember those cookies we mentioned earlier? Ad blockers and tracking blockers prevent these cookies and other trackers from appearing on web pages while you’re browsing. They also prevent adverts from popping up while you’re busy.
It would be in your best interests to download and install these extensions not from the ones offered by Chrome or Safari, but download them from a third party, instead. Your best bet, however, would be to switch from browsers like Chrome altogether. Find an alternative browser, like Firefox and up the privacy in the settings panel. Use search engines like DuckDuckGo instead of Google – these don’t collect or store your data, and neither do they sell it to third parties.
Go Private with a VPN
What’s a VPN, you ask? It stands for virtual private network. The clue is in the name, really. A VPN is a handy tool to have in the online world, where big tech companies are looking to collect information about your browsing behavior everywhere you go or on every app you use. VPNs hide your IP address, as well as encrypt your internet browsing. They protect your online identity, which is particularly useful when you’re using a public Wi-Fi network.
Photo by William Iven on Unsplash
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