Updated: Aug 22, 2021
The fact that businesses of all scales are collecting your online data probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you anymore. Google, Apple, and Facebook are no exception. In fact, they’re at the forefront of data tracking. Their business prowess and online dominance have given them a significant edge on the data they collect and they’ve been facing various allegations and charges for their data handling practices for years now. Facebook, for instance, has gotten into trouble over its data collecting and sharing tactics. Last year, it was even accused of watching its Instagram users through their phone cameras. And Apple privacy issues have ranged from tracking Mac user’s IP addresses to its iPhone devices collecting location data even when you’ve asked them not to.
These companies seem to stop at nothing to track and collect personal information. But what’s behind their intrusive practices, and how might you be compromising your data security by using their services? Let’s dig a little deeper to understand.
Why Is There So Much Interest in Your Personal Data?
Why do tech giants go through so much trouble to monitor you around the clock and track your personal information? Data helps them customize your user experience on their platforms and devices. For example, it allows Facebook to suggest people from your past to connect with. This could save you all the hassle of locating their FB profiles by yourself. These types of services could help you discover content that is more in line with your recent interests, making your life easier in return.
Data surveillance could even help these businesses improve their products and services and cater to user needs far better. It’s how Google gets to fix glitches on its voice assistant, or how Apple gets to improve its iPhones with better features.
But there are also plenty of other reasons behind all their data tracking practices. For instance, companies like Google can boost their advertising revenue because of all the personal information it collects. Facebook can too. These companies use their ability to collect user information in order to charge money from businesses who pay them to display advertisements on their platforms.
These tech giants are also using user data to improve their competitiveness and even to keep an eye on their competition. In other words, you’re privacy and data help their businesses could grow even bigger.
How Is Google, Apple, and Facebook Tracking Your Data?
These companies have mastered the art of data collection. They know exactly how to get what they need. And they could use a series of strategies to accomplish this end.
Privacy policies and user agreements are perhaps the most common tool they use. Their ridiculously lengthy and often confusing content often prevents users from going through them line for. line. After all, only 1% of people are reading them before giving consent. The rest are just blindly clicking on the “Agree” button to avoid the hassle of sifting through a ton of legal and technical jargon.
These companies are gathering intelligence right under your nose with other similar tactics. Their account settings, for example, often come with default features that allow them to track and collect personal data. Not only that, chances are that you’ve provided them consent to share your information with third parties and follow you on other sites, too.
These businesses could even trick you into sharing your data. Facebook, for instance, has come under intense media scrutiny for paying youngsters to download a Facebook Research app that spied on users.
But they don’t always need to resort to trickery. The popularity of these companies gives them plenty of opportunities to track your data. Take Google, for example. It’s the biggest search engine on the planet. So naturally, most internet users flock into its search platform to find their way around the internet. This allows it to access an incredible amount of data insights into online user behavior.
In fact, search facilities are an excellent tool for businesses to find out what content their users are after: Whether you’re searching for a local restaurant on Google, trying to find a long-lost friend on Facebook, or looking for an app on Apple’s App Store, the consequences are pretty much the same. You’re inadvertently sharing your content interests with these tech giants.
Find out how we teach kids about Online Privacy and Their Personal Information through our Cyber Civics program.
Prioritizing Data Safety
With all these intrusive practices and 24/7 surveillance, maintaining some form of data privacy might feel like a struggle. But it doesn’t have to be. With the right security steps, you can easily keep your personal information safe from these companies.
Here’s what you should know:
Deactivate data collecting and sharing permissions on all your Google, Facebook, and Apple accounts. Be particularly mindful of their data collecting networks. Facebook, for instance, could be collecting your data not only on its own platform but also on those it owns, like WhatsApp and Instagram. So, you’ll need to go through your account settings on all these platforms, too.
Review user agreements and privacy policies. It’s the only way to understand the risks vs. the benefits of using the platforms provided by these tech companies.
Opt-out of unnecessary cookies and delete what’s already installed.
Use a VPN to shield your IP address.
Avoid signing up for accounts if you can access their services without it. For instance, you don’t need an account to search and watch YouTube videos.
Frequently delete your browser history and any other data it might be storing.
Use several search engines instead of relying on just one.
Avoid sharing identifiable data on your online accounts with Google, Facebook, Apple, and others.
Of course, digital fluency is crucial in these efforts. But, unfortunately, many individuals still compromise their data security with seemingly reckless online practices simply due to a lack of awareness. So, keeping yourself updated and taking the time to build a solid understanding of data protection is critical to remaining safe online.
For more articles like this one, timely advice, and tips for digital parents, sign up for our bi-weekly newsletter.