“Most of us simply don’t care about our digital privacy,” writes Reuters Social Media Editor Anthony De Rosa. “Sure, you see people citing their displeasure every time Facebook changes their terms of service, but with more than a billion users, few actually leave.”
According to De Rosa, part of the problem is that many of us don’t actually realize how much information we give up by using platforms like Facebook or Instagram. We don’t realize just how much personal data is sold off to marketing agencies on the side, nor are we aware how that information is used.
If we were, we’d probably be a lot more careful with it.
What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
When you visit a digital storefront, your personal information is often analyzed in order to tweak the prices you see. Everything from your search habits to your location to your operating system is fair game, and could see you paying up to several hundred dollars more at checkout. And the more data the retailer has, the better – at least from their perspective.
“The more information [retailers] have on file about you – your age, sex, address, occupation and record of previous purchases – the more accurately they can estimate how much they can get away with charging you,” writes The Age’s Economics Editor Ross Gittins.
- Many travel sites modify search results based on device, purchase history and search history, steering you to higher-priced search results or charging you more for room bookings.
- Online retailers adjust their prices based on your location, with higher-income areas receiving discounted prices.
- Tinder’s premium subscription service costs you double the standard monthly rate if you’re over 28 years of age.
- New legislation in the United States could see airlines adjusting ticket prices both online and offline based on your income, marital status, residence and reason for travel.
Your wallet isn’t the only thing that might suffer if you’re not careful with your information, either:
- Writer Kayla Brandon had a candid Pinterest photo of her and her grandmother lifted and used in an ad for yoga facelifts. Others have found pictures of themselves, friends, family members, relatives and even children used in similar ads.
- What you do and share on social media also directly impacts your employability, as 93% of employers will review a candidate’s social profile before making a decision.
- Giving your information to the wrong business could lead to you being harassed by spam, having accounts cracked and stolen, or even having your money siphoned away.
- Being careless with app installations could leave you with apps that read your texts or spam your contacts (among other things).
How to Better Protect Your Private Information
- Regularly wipe your cookies and clear your browser cache: As noted by Northeastern University, cookies are among the primary methods for tracking user information online. Clearing your browsing history denies retailers access to much of this information.
- Be conscious about what apps you install: Pay attention to the permissions required by an app when you install it. It makes sense for an app like Instagram to be able to access your camera, or for Google Voice to make phone calls. But does a game really need to view and modify your entire contact list? DTEK by BlackBerry, a tool preinstalled on BlackBerry’s new PRIV smartphone, lets you keep track of exactly what permissions your apps use, notifying you when one does something strange and better equipping you to protect your privacy.
- Stay sparing with what – and how much – you share online: The more information you make available, the more retailers and spammers have to work with (not to mention hiring managers). Be careful what you share, because on the Internet, everything’s permanent.
- Turn off GPS (or refuse to share location information): By turning off location information on mobile devices, you remove one of the avenues through which storefronts can modify their pricing.
- Use a private browser turn on incognito mode, or use a plugin: A browser like TOR works wonders for anonymous browsing, while plugins for Chrome/Firefox such as Ghostery and Do Not Track make it much harder for websites to target or track you.
As end users, we’re far more lax with our privacy than we need to be. The risks of giving out too much information are very real, and if we don’t reign in our tendencies, then we’ve only ourselves to blame if we lose our money, dignity or both. At the end of the day, data security should be important to more than just the IT department.
It should be important to the user, too.