There are often unexpected consequences of the interactions of multiple online data sources, such as public records and social networking sites. In fact, researchers have shown that it is possible to predict American’s Social Security Numbers with an amazingly degree of accuracy if they know the individual’s name, state, and date of birth.
Simple things we do every day online and offline have real consequences for our privacy.
Advertisers Follow You From Website to Website
It used to be that advertisers bought ads on specific web pages. For example, airlines would buy ads on travel sites. Now advertisers and companies buy access to specific people.
Advertisers and marketers can now follow you around the Internet, from website to website, with advertising targeted specifically to you and your interests.
How It Works
There are three types of tracking tools that monitor your online activity: cookies, Flash cookies, and beacons. Cookies are small files placed on your computer when you visit a website. Some cookies (session cookies) are necessary for activities such as online shopping and don’t threaten your personal privacy. For example, session cookies keep track of items in your website shopping cart.
Other types of cookies (Flash cookies and third party cookies) are more dangerous because they are persistent in nature (Flash cookies can even re-spawn themselves after you’ve deleted them). These sophisticated tools can track your Internet activity in real time and follow you from site to site, which allows companies to creative rich profiles of your Internet surfing habits.
Where Your Information Goes
Companies gather the detailed information about you from these tracking tools (often combining it with other data they already have about you) and then auction it off on stock-market-like “data exchanges.”
Third parties (Internet marketers and advertisers, life insurance companies, credit card companies, political campaigns, and others) purchase information about you so that they can deliver highly targeted ad campaigns tailored specifically to you.
Learn more about how you are tracked online:
- How Advertisers Use Internet Cookies to Track You
- The Tracking Ecosystem (a graphic)
- KnowPrivacy: Guide to Data Collection on the Web
TIPS: How to Protect Your Credit
Follow the recommendations on this page and elsewhere on this site to control the data that’s online about you, and to protect your personal data.
Additionally, to ensure that your personal data hasn’t been compromised you can:
- Request your free credit report. Stagger your requests and ask for one report every four months (for example, request your report from Experian in January, from Equifax in May, from TransUnion in September; repeat yearly).
- Freeze your credit. This is a great way to protect your personal credit information. A credit freeze prevents creditors from accessing your credit file and can stop an identity thief from opening new credit accounts in your name.
SPECIAL NOTE: A credit freeze will not prevent an identity thief from accessing your existing accounts, so check your monthly bank and credit card statements for unusual activity. A credit freeze also doesn’t prevent an identity thief from opening non-credit checking accounts in your name, so request and check your free credit reports as noted above.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Update Your Browser
Some older versions of browsers allow websites to harvest a detailed list of places you’ve previously visited online in a technique known as “history sniffing.”
Websites and advertising agencies can use the data they gather from history sniffing to build profiles about you, and criminals use the data for phishing attacks.
Update your browser now to take advantage of the latest privacy and security features:
Firefox 4 offers Private Browsing and a host of other privacy features. There are also hundreds of add ons available.
IE8 offers offers phishing filters, InPrivate Browsing, and more. IE9 offers Tracking Protection Lists to help keep your information private.
Chrome offers Incognito mode, a user privacy settings tab, and more. There are thousands of apps, extensions, and themes available.
Safari 5 offers Private Browsing, secure encryption, cookie blocking, pop up blocking, anti-virus protection, and more.
Opera 11 offers private browsing and more. There are hundreds of extensions available.
Modify Your Browser
Once you’ve updated your browser, set it up using the steps provided in the following articles:
- How to Avoid the Prying Eyes
- How to Control Your Privacy Online (an step-by-step interactive graphic)
- How to Set Your “Preference Managers”
- Please also see Privacy Tools