September 18, 2020

How Companies Bulk Collect Your Data

Companies take your data all the time. Here's how they get away with it — and what you can do to prevent it from happening.

How Companies Bulk Collect Your Data

Your data should be yours, but it’s not. Thanks to the very broken, very backwards way in which the internet works, companies are collecting your personal data and using it for their own means.

Yet collecting your data doesn’t simply mean seeing what posts you like and what you’ve written down as your favorite films. Companies, sites, and services collect millions of data points on you (yes, you) in the most high-tech, passive, and nefarious ways possible.

Tracking Cookies

The easiest way a company tracks and your data across the internet is through cookies, or files installed through your browser that send your data back to a server. These days, you’re often told that a site requires cookies to use, and you must enable cookies to use it. There are many times, however, when you’re downloading and storing cookies on your computer without even realizing it. (And, no, not of the edible variety.) These cookies track you across a site, or across the internet, with cookies following you based on plug-ins or partnerships with other sites to hoover up as much data as possible as you browse the internet.

Not all cookies are bad. Website developers can use your data in cookies to personalize your experience on their website. Yet few sites, services, and apps explicitly inform you on exactly what they’re using your data for, even if they claim to be doing it for “your own good.” They will tell you in the 1000-paged User Agreement (or EULA), but no one has time for 1000 pages of fine print!

Many cookies fall into a category called “third party cookies.” These are cookies designed by people who may have nothing to do with the organization whose website you’re visiting, but track and collect your data on their behalf. Sites can have a gazillion of these third-party cookies, too, so if a website is filled with display ads, there’s a good chance that every one of the organizations buying those ads are installing cookies on your browser.

Even if you’ve disabled all cookies, your browser itself is collecting data on you. Google, for instance, makes the Chrome browser, the most popular web browser in the world by a wide margin. They’re also one of the biggest digital ad providers on the internet, and any use any data source they can to sell ads to you. So, yes, even if you’ve disabled cookies and told advertisers “do not track me” — an actual feature in many modern browsers — you still can’t plug the hole without abandoning your browser entirely.

Tracking You

Your phone has Bluetooth enabled for a reason, and it’s not just to make it easier to connect your headphones. Companies can track your movement in physical places by using things called “beacons.” These beacons sniff (yes, like a dog) for devices based on identifiable factors like your Bluetooth and Wifi IDs on your devices. This correlates with your full data/advertising profile and lets anyone who wants to know who you are and where you are right now.

If you think that’s bad, it gets worse: cell phone companies are actually selling your location data to anyone who wants it in bulk. They don’t even need beacons to track you; they can simply ping your location based on every cell tower you’ve passed through in real time and pass off the data to anyone willing to pay..

Aside from locations, companies can also install trackers into their apps to get more info about you, your devices, and your activity. Apps bake third-party analytics services into apps to learn more about how people use apps. Yet these layers also sniff around for data on your device and can learn anything from your unique device ID number, to your location, sensitive and non-sensitive data, and what other apps you have on your device. There’s a reason why companies want you to use their app and not their website when you’re on your phone: they’re able to control their experience and collect more data.

Un-Tracking Yourself

There are countless other touchpoints and methods companies and data brokers use to collect data on you and your devices. There are likely plenty of ways we haven’t yet learned about.

Fortunately, Ozone lets you take back your data from data-hungry apps, services, and sites, putting control of your information in your hands. By anonymizing your data, you have the power to share what you want, with whomever you want, and profit from it.

Join Ozone