It’s easy to take for granted just how easy modern technology makes a lot of our everyday tasks.
Before the digital age, you had to go to the bank in person to open an account, decipher a map to get directions and memorize the phone numbers of your friends and family.
Now, many banks don’t even have physical branches to walk into, online mapping services can tell you the best route to any location, and no one really bothers to remember phone numbers anymore. You don’t have to leave the house to buy groceries or pick up the phone to order takeout. Your Rolodex, personal planner, encyclopedias and dictionaries, recipe books, and the yellow pages have been rendered obsolete by the Internet.
But all of these modern conveniences come at a cost — and it’s not just your monthly Internet bill.
Another name for the digital age is the “information age,” which makes sense when you consider that we get all many of these conveniences in exchange for our personal data.
Your name, birthday, address, phone number; even your pet’s name, mother’s maiden name, favorite movies and TV shows: every little bit of information is now a valuable commodity and many firms are clamoring to get their hands on it.
Many “free” services in the information age are actually providing a service in exchange for access to your personal data. For example, social networks like Facebook make money by aggregating detailed information about their users and selling highly targeted advertising using that data. Google makes over 95% of its revenue from selling advertising.
In advertising, the most valuable ads are those that are targeted at specific demographics. Advertisers aren’t trying to reach everyone with their ads. Instead, they know exactly the type of person who is most likely to buy their product or service. This is called their “target audience.” A good advertiser knows all about their target audience’s likely age, location, interests, etc. And they’re willing to invest what it takes in order to reach their exact target audience.
Both Facebook and Google have business models that depend on selling information about you. When you tell Facebook all about your birthday, your interests, your friends, and more, they gather that data and allow advertisers to choose to target certain demographics with their ads. For instance, an advertiser can choose who will see their ad by location, age, interests and more. The same goes for Google: whenever you use their free services, you’re giving them information on your age, location, interests, and other demographic data. They can then turn around and sell highly targeted ads for a high fee.
While you can protest against this trend by quitting social media , everyone who uses the Internet gives up some modicum of their personal data every time they go online.
Even if you give up on Facebook, data mining companies have ample opportunity to grab your data. They gather your data via browser cookies when you’re browsing the web, purchases you make online, even the songs you listen to from streaming services. Unless you’re living in a cave completely off the grid, it’s likely that the top data brokers have an individual dossier on you, which they’re willing to sell to the highest bidders.
Most of us can’t or won’t give up the internet entirely just to keep our data safe. The internet isn’t just for fun or convenience anymore: it’s a necessity. Internet access is crucial for keeping up with your peers in your education and career (just try doing homework or applying for a job without email or internet access). The United Nations has even declared internet access a basic human right.
Luckily, you don’t have to give up the internet completely just to protect your personal data from being used against you. There are ways to take advantage of modern conveniences online while still protecting your data, including using special security software, enabling multi-factor authentication with your logins, using virtual private networks (VPNs) to connect to the internet, and using unique, secure passwords for each of your online accounts.
Want to keep your data safe, but not sure how to get started? Check out the guide below to discover how you can keep your data private and safe.