Have you ever mentioned something in a conversation and then had an ad pop up on your phone about what you said? It's happened to everyone, leading many to question if their phones secretly listen in on their conversations, suggesting ads based on what they hear. Creepy, right?
The good news is that your phone isn't listening to you. However, the reality is much creepier. Ads seem to know so much about you because every time you use the internet, your data is being harvested and sold to advertisers. We'll explain how it all works below.
The Data Ecosystem
The internet is like one big data collection factory. Whenever you use a search engine, visit a website, or browse through social media, you pay with your data. That's why platforms like Google and Facebook are free to use. They generate revenue by selling our data to companies looking to advertise.
Based on your internet activity, your data can determine who you are with scary accuracy. Your personal information, such as your name, age, email address, and location, is easily accessible. Your online activity can also pinpoint your career, interests, and interactions with specific websites. With that information, they can determine the best ways to target you with ads that'll prompt you to engage with their products.
How Does Data Get Collected?
Every online interaction you make leaves a footprint. These footprints can piece a puzzle on who you are, what you like, and even what you want to purchase.
Browsing The Web
Websites and search engines use tracking technologies to collect information on you. Here are some standard methods that websites use to track you:
Cookies: Small trackers placed on your browser by a website you visit. Cookies can track any data about your browser, other websites you visit (cross-site tracking), what you've searched, and any other online behaviours.
Pixels: Tiny images embedded in a web page that track your behaviour on a website, including page visits and clicks.
Fingerprinting: Your browser settings determine a lot about you. Fingerprinting takes data from your browser to create a specific profile that identifies you, regardless of whether or not you use a VPN or incognito tab.
You're probably aware that every social media platform collects user data. Social media has been at the forefront of data privacy scandals. Over half of Gen Zers spend at least four hours daily on social media. In general, we share our lives on social media. Combined with the amount of hours spent, it's a data goldmine.
Profile Information: You have to provide them with some basic information when creating a social media profile. Basic examples include your age, location, name, email address, and career. The information you provide goes a long way. Think of LinkedIn, for example. You provide information about your career, and that lets them send you personalized ads.
Engagement: Every like, share, comment, and duration you spend on a post is tracked. These actions provide insights into your preferences, interests, and even how you're feeling. For instance, if you spend time liking posts about a specific travel destination, you'll see ads for flight deals or resort bookings.
Interactions: The people you follow and interact with also determine much about you. Companies can determine current life events, interests, and purchasing behaviours based on your online social circle.
Content You Post & Permissions: The photos, statuses, and stories you share on your profile can be analyzed to understand more about you. You also provide apps with specific permissions that grant them access to even more personally identifiable information, like your location.
How Is Data Used For Ads?
Your data fuels digital marketing efforts. An advertiser wouldn't just place their ad anywhere on the internet. It would cost too much, and they wouldn't achieve their conversion goals. Instead, they turn to big tech giants like Google and Meta. These platforms collect a vast amount of data points from their users. The data points are then aggregated into detailed user profiles containing all the information they gathered from users.
Big tech platforms allow companies to bid for ad space, targeting specific users based on the data profiles they created. This system is designed to ensure advertisers get the best results at the most cost-effective rates. But what makes this system so valuable is user data. Companies are willing to pay a lot to get their ads in front of the right people. In fact, the global digital ad spend for 2023 so far is over 600 billion dollars.
Consumer data is valuable. But if it's so valuable, why aren't we, the users providing that data, getting compensated for it? There's an imbalance of power in the data ecosystem, as consumers are not getting rightfully compensated for the data they unknowingly provide. We at Cyder want to change that. Our extension protects your browsing data and lets you decide whether or not you wish to share your data. It's one of the many ways you can start taking control of your online privacy.
Ways You Can Protect Your Privacy
Here are some steps you can take to protect your data from being collected:
Adjust Your Privacy Settings: Your web browser and phone have adjustable settings that can help improve your privacy. You can turn off location services, adjust app settings, change cookie preferences, and even send "Do Not Track" requests when browsing.
Switch Browsers: Switching to more privacy-focused browsers can be a game changer. Some examples include Brave, Opera, and Firefox, each with built-in features that offer a more private browsing experience.
Use A VPN: Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) hide your IP address and encrypt your online activity, making it difficult to track you. There are many free VPNs available for both mobile and desktop. Check your app store or extension store.
The Easiest Way To Protect Your Data
Download Cyder! Our free browser extension puts you in control of your browsing data. Cyder protects your data from being collected without your consent, blocking cookies, trackers, and ads. You decide who gets access to your data and for what purpose. Plus, you get rewarded with gift cards if you share your data with companies you trust.
Using the web shouldn't come at the cost of your privacy. As we've discussed, the internet is full of companies and advertisers eager to capitalize on your data. The accuracy with which our data can predict our needs and behaviours is impressive yet unsettling. That's why extensions like Cyder exist to empower users to take control by protecting, owning and getting compensated for their data.