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How Can I Protect Myself Online?

Have you ever wondered why you continued receiving targeted ads for that one item you are no longer interested in?

This is due to data brokers. Cambridge defines data brokers as "a person or company whose business is selling information about companies, markets, etc." This means that our information, whether personal or not, is collected or sold to be used for different purposes. How do they get our information? Unfortunately, it's very simple for them. Whether you're highly protected while using the internet or not, chances are your data has already been collected or sold. This information is gathered from the websites we visit, our public records, the items we purchase, and any online agreement forms.

A deeper look into my online usage and how freely I have shared personal information has raised the alarm in my head. I have always been someone who thought "they had nothing to hide." It's okay to sign up for an email subscription; as long as I receive a 10% discount that I will never actually use. I've grown up on the internet without being conscious of how my actions could benefit some company to make money off of me. Even though I have most likely willingly been providing my personal data, it is never too late to make changes that will help me in the long run.

When we visit a website, we may see a pop-up asking if we want to "enable cookies." Cookies are the data that we input into the website. This is the information we provide on the website; however, many times, third-party cookies can also collect our data, which is when our privacy is lost.

Although it may not seem like a significant issue because it's 2022, how are we supposed to continue using the internet without information being collected? I understand this can be an overwhelming topic, but we can take a few steps to ensure we do our best to prevent our data from being sold.

  • Skip providing personal information: Avoid filling out forms that require personal information. This can range from a scholarship survey to an email subscription to a website.

  • Opt out of data broker lists: This article from PrivacyBee provides steps to opt-out of data broker lists.

  • Add your number to the Do Not Call list: This is something I just did due to the increase of phone calls I receive daily.

  • Review Terms of Services: Whenever signing up for anything online, it is always good to ensure that your information will not be shared or sold to a third-party.

  • Support and stay up-to-date on legislation: Unfortunately, what these companies are doing are not considered illegal.

Why is this so important anyways? I understand this is an enormous task at hand to undo something is still legally allowed, but the reality is that this is a massive invasion of our privacy. Our information being sold can put individuals at risk.

Growing up, I moved to Miami with my mom and brother because my mom was in a physically abusive marriage. As a child, I knew the importance of privacy because we needed to hide. As I got older, I got curious about the family we left behind and searched for them online. I was surprised to see how much information I could find on them. I then checked to see if there was information about myself online, and there was. We weren't hiding because we had an online presence, which was enough for someone to find us if they truly wanted to.

Having data sold can put someone who depends on privacy at risk. As significant of a task as this may be, there are genuine reasons people are concerned about issues like data brokers. We not only need to take steps to enforce privacy but to ensure that we are educated and support the laws that protect our privacy.

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