Warm Up: Understand your Data Privacy risks
My data is out there on the internet. Yours probably is too. Every day, companies collect personal details about us (both online and off), and we all share more than we realize through our devices, our social media accounts, and more.
And it’s fair to question, so what? What’s the big deal? Well, our data is bought and sold without our knowledge or consent, enabling powerful interests to shape the information we see, the prices we pay, and even the opportunities we get. The weaponization of our data – not just what data companies have about us, but how that data is used – has the potential to impact our security, financial well-being, and independence.
Let’s get specific about some of these harms. While the targeted ad that follows you from website to website is creepy and annoying, there can be other more invasive problems when our data is collected and used against us.
There are companies with business models built on scraping any information on you, building secret profiles of you, and squeezing every last penny out of you. For example, insurance technology companies feed data irrelevant of your driving ability, such as your cell phone location data or credit score, to opaque algorithms that decide how much you pay for your car insurance premium. Your data privacy also has wider societal implications. Clearview AI, a facial recognition technology company, has violated the privacy of millions of people by scraping billions of public photos from social media websites to train its technology without consent. Facial recognition technology has higher error rates for Black people and the unregulated use of this technology by law enforcement has led to several wrongful arrests.
Consumer Reports believes consumers need far more control over who uses our data, and for what purpose. We’ve argued for a definition of “publicly available” that’s limited to only that which is made lawfully available from federal, state, or local government records. We believe privacy should be the standard, and so we’ve advocated for stronger laws, called out big tech companies, and built tools that you can use to reclaim our data privacy and reduce our digital footprint.
Ok, now that your brain is warmed up, let’s do some work:
Workout: Reduce Your Online Tracking
Imagine you’re headed to the gym for leg day (I’ll be honest, I’ve never done this myself… but let’s imagine). We all know that working out our legs won’t solve all our body’s problems – the same is true with privacy: There is no single activity that will address everything about the weaponization of our data. Let’s start where we can, though: by reducing your online tracking. You can use a browser extension to make it harder for advertising networks and other companies to track you across multiple websites. Follow our by step guide HERE on how to add a browser extension to your computer. I’ll wait.
Ok! We’re back! Great workout, you’ve taken an important step in protecting your privacy online by limiting the companies’ ability to track you from site to site across the internet. This might limit a company’s ability to collect more information about you, which in turn can limit some of the invasive ways companies use our data, everything from your data being sold without your knowledge and consent to shaping the information we see to personalized pricing. Of course, there are other ways that our data leaks out – this workout won’t help with the Facial Recognition example above – which is why Consumer Reports is working for stronger legislation protecting our privacy across the board. But that’s for a future workout.
Catch a second wind? Here’s more you can do to continue your data workout!
- Build your Privacy Toolkit : Create a Customized Plan with Security Planner, and Delete your Data with Permission Slip
- Continue Reading about Privacy Harms: When we don’t have control over who is using our data, third parties can manipulate us – like Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 presidential election. When our data is used without our consent, it can lead to data sets being created that, in turn, actively hurt people – like how facial recognition technology has led to false arrests. And reducing online tracking isn’t a silver bullet for limiting the spread of our data: Details as personal as the medications we take can get sent to companies like Google and Facebook and our health apps (like Period Trackers) aren’t all treating our data safely. Finally, to add insult to injury, companies aren’t even using our data to make our lives better. As Julia Angwin puts it: Online Ads Are Serving Us Lousy, Overpriced Goods.
Reduce Online Tracking by Using Browser Extensions with Security Planner
Use a browser extension to make it harder for advertising networks and other companies to track you across multiple websites.
Your Next Steps
- Add PRIVACY BADGER to your browser
Privacy Badger is a free tool developed by the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and widely recommended by privacy and security experts. It is a browser extension that can be used with Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Opera. (Privacy Badger does not work with Apple’s Safari browser at this time.)
- Adjust As Needed
Think of Privacy Badger as a gatekeeper that allows some types of trackers to load in your browser—for example, cookies that keep you logged in to a particular service—but keeps other trackers out. If a site you’re trying to access doesn’t load correctly once you’re using the extension, you can easily disable it for the site.
- Add an Ad Blocker
While Privacy Badger will block some ads that rely on trackers, it isn’t intended to stop advertisements from appearing on web pages. You can use the ad blocker uBlock Origin alongside Privacy Badger. Blocking ads can make websites load faster and reduce the risks of “malvertisements”—ads that, if clicked on, will load malware or viruses onto your computer. However, ad blockers sometimes stop sites that rely on ad technology from working correctly. If this happens, uBlock Origin can be disabled for the website you are trying to use.
Why is this important?
- Most websites collect data about you, your devices, and what you do online with the help of third-party trackers. These are small packets of data developed by other companies for purposes such as advertising and analytics, and can be used to track your activity across the internet.
- In some cases, companies may be tracking you across multiple websites without your knowledge or consent. The scope and scale of the data being collected may be unclear.
- The EFF’s Privacy Badger blocks third-party trackers from collecting information about multiple sites you visit across the web and from sharing that information with other companies.
- Privacy Badger won’t prevent your employer or internet service provider from tracking what you do online. Our pages on using virtual private networks (VPNs), the Tor browser and HTTPS Everywhere include information for people concerned about those aspects of their privacy.
- Learn more at securityplanner.consumerreports.org