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How Google, Apple and Facebook use your private information

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Are you a collector? Many people are, and for good reason: collections of many different items can bring untold fortunes when they sell. Just for an example, if you collected baseball cards and just happened to have a Mickey Mantle rookie card, you’d be able to pocket over 8.9 million. Or how about a Faberge Easter Egg collection, which sold for more than $50 million? And if you had classic cars, well, you’d be in the money – in 2015 one collection in Florida sold for $67 million. Depending on where you look, those numbers keep going up. Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry collection sold for $164 million, and Yves St. Laurent’s art collection sold at auction for over $484 million.

Everything from original comic books to watches, to fine glassware, to fine art is valuable, and will provide their owners with a nice chunk of money for retirement. But if someone asked you what the most valuable collector’s item was, would you know the correct answer? Unless your answer was data, you would be wrong. Yes, data, the information collected by major tech companies like Google, Apple and Facebook based on every online search, click, like and share that you’ve done either online or on your smartphone. It’s put companies like Facebook in the top Fortune 100, and they continue raking in fortunes as you read this.

Why tech companies do data mining

The term “data mining” is just what it implies. All the data that’s collected by Google, Apple and Facebook is “mined” – captured, analyzed, and then sold to advertisers and others as part of each company’s business plan. For example, Facebook monetizes their operations by capturing the data that’s created by its users – called Facebook data mining – and then sells it in order to pad their bottom lines. Advertisers want the data to “better target” their potential customers, and others use it as part of their analytics to see what is and isn’t working.

You have to remember that almost every single adult in the U.S. has some type of smartphone, and the data that is generated by this audience is huge. The average user produces 2.9 GB of data each month, which is 34 percent higher than it was the previous year. More importantly, data is expected to double every two years, producing a staggering 2.5 quintillion bytes of data (that’s 18 zeroes). It’s mind-boggling to think about just how much data that represents. And while lawmakers and Congress vow to protect our privacy when it comes to data, nothing has been done to stop the flow of data to these technology companies.

Welcome to the data collection bin

So, exactly what data is being collected? Do you need to worry about the emails you send your friends, or the texts you share with others, or the websites you visit? Each company has their own data collection policies, which they clearly spell out in their privacy policy. The problem is that most people don’t bother to read those documents.

Google, for example, collects all of your Google searches, even when you use their “incognito mode” which is supposed to be private. They also collect data on the YouTube videos you click on, which apps you use and how often you use them, as well as the emails you send out and receive. Here’s something else most people forget: when you sign up for Google, you provide all of your personally identifiable information (PII) including your name, phone numbers and other data. If you want to be able to limit just how much Google collects from your activity, go to your Google privacy settings and adjust the settings to minimize what they can collect from you.

You won’t be able to eliminate everything. That’s because Google sells over $100 billion in targeted ads each year, and that’s possible thanks to the data Google collects from you. That’s about 90 percent of the revenue Google earns. Here’s something even more concerning: Google can provide your data to law enforcement agencies and other authorities if a warrant is issued, so even if you try to protect your privacy, you won’t be too successful.

Facebook mines all of your data as well. That includes all of your friends, groups, searches and more. And it’s not only your Facebook activity that’s collected. Facebook also collects information on IP addresses you visit, browser data, how many times you visit certain sites and other personal information about you.  If you want to see a really eye-opening view of what they collect, go to Facebook’s “Your Facebook Information” portal and download everything they’ve collected about you.

Facebook doesn’t sell your information, but be aware that advertisers do pay Facebook to provide personalized ads on their many different platforms. Basically, Facebook is nothing more than an ad delivery system designed to send targeted ads to its billions and billions of users. It’s actually the biggest collector of personal data on the web.

Apple is different from Google and Facebook in that they focus on privacy first, and tend not to collect data the same way the other tech companies do. Apple does collect data, but it’s more related to products like Maps, photos, FaceTime, iTunes and other products. It’s all designed to provide users with a better personal experience using Apple products rather than selling anything. In addition, you can view all the data Apple collects about you by going to “Privacy Inquiries” on Apple’s Privacy Policy page.

You’ll find many different news stories about how Apple fights to protect the privacy of its users. Many times law enforcement has taken Apple to court to gain access to their customer’s information and data, but Apple vigorously fights any attempt to breach its customers’ privacy. They have repeatedly refused to provide law enforcement with security codes and software needed to log into one of its devices. In addition, Apple doesn’t sell its information to advertisers, but it does sell access to its customers through ads placed on its News app and on the App store.

The bottom line: know what each company is collecting when it comes to personally identifiable information about you, and the information it collects on your usage. Read their privacy policies and review and revise your settings to limit the data they are able to collect.

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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Augusta Free Press