Alan Henry writes: It’s no secret that there’s big money to be made in violating your privacy. Companies will pay big bucks to learn more about you, and service providers on the web are eager to get their hands on as much information about you as possible.
So what do you do? How do you keep your information out of everyone else’s hands? Here’s a guide to surfing the web while keeping your privacy intact.
The adage goes, “If you’re not paying for a service, you’re the product, not the customer,” and it’s never been more true. Every day more news breaks about a new company that uploads your address book to their servers, skirts in-browser privacy protection, and tracks your every move on the web to learn as much about your browsing habits and activities as possible. In this post, we’ll explain why you should care, and help you lock down your surfing so you can browse in peace.
Your personal information is valuable. More valuable than you might think. When we originally published our guide to stop Facebook from tracking you around the web, some people cried “So what if they track me? I’m not that important/I have nothing to hide/they just want to target ads to me and I’d rather have targeted ads over useless ones!” To help explain why this is short-sighted and a bit naive, let me share a personal story.
Before I joined the Lifehacker team, I worked at a company that traded in information. Our clients were huge companies and one of the services we offered was to collect information about people, their demographics, income, and habits, and then roll it up so they could get a complete picture about who you are and how to convince you to buy their products. In some cases, we designed web sites and campaigns to convince you to provide even more information in exchange for a coupon, discount, or the simple promise of other of those. It works very, very well.
The real money is in taking your data and shacking up with third parties to help them come up with new ways to convince you to spend money, sign up for services, and give up more information. Relevant ads are nice, but the real value in your data exists where you won’t see it until you’re too tempted by the offer to know where it came from, whether it’s a coupon in your mailbox or a new daily deal site with incredible bargains tailored to your desires. It all sounds good until you realize the only thing you have to trade for such “exciting” bargains is everything personal about you: your age, income, family’s ages and income, medical history, dietary habits, favorite web sites, your birthday…the list goes on. It would be fine if you decided to give up this information for a tangible benefit, but you may never see a benefit aside from an ad, and no one’s including you in the decision. Here’s how to take back that control. [Continue reading…]