We're all familiar with the total disregard companies like Facebook and Google have for our privacy. After multiple scandals and security breaches, users are crying out for the biggest tech companies to stop being so careless with how they handle personal information.
Sadly, these complaints seem to have mostly fallen on deaf ears. Monetizing data, after all, is how free internet platforms make their revenue. Social media data is a goldmine to advertisers who study things like demographics, search histories, and browsing habits to more effectively target consumers. So it's likely that our data troubles won't be going away any time soon.
That being said, privacy advocates across the web are developing new ways to fight back against data harvesting. A new tool developed by a VPN research group is showing users just how much information their favorite platforms are siphoning from their devices. What's more, it's breaking down what kinds of data these info-hungry companies are after, and where you can go to avoid being tracked.
See who's tracking you with vpnMentor's "Who's Watching You?" tool
Privacy research and developer group vpnMentor has developed a new tool that helps users uncover how online services are using (or misusing) their personal data.
"Who's Watching You?" breaks down the top 18 platforms by active users, and allows visitors to examine the data habits of each one in depth. The tool provides detailed information on common data harvesting tactics unique to each service, such as battery and location tracking.
In addition to annotated entries on the most popular platforms, "Who's Watching You" lets you group each service into categories based on specific areas of concern -- such as messaging and content tracking.
A standout category, however, tells you whether or not a service ignores "Do Not Track." This informs you if a platform is bypassing your private browser window and collecting points of data without your knowledge.
Most importantly, you can see whether or not these online services are tracking your activity on other websites. Facebook is notorious for wrapping its tentacles around almost every part of the web, but did you know that even Netflix and Spotify track your browsing behavior as well?
Use "Who's Watching You?" to browse smarter online
"Who's Watching You?" is free to use and available on vpnMentor's website. One of the most convenient features of the tool is how it fits in a browser window, so you don't even need to download it or worry about compatibility issues. It can be viewed on any operating system or device that can access the internet -- including both desktop and mobile.
Keep in mind, this tool can't directly stop these platforms from monitoring your data. What it can do, however, is help you make informed decisions about where to spend your time online.
If you open Facebook's tab on "Who's Watching You?," for example, you'll see that it not only tracks location but off-site browsing activity as well. Now you'll know to stay logged out of Facebook when browsing privately, searching, or shopping.
There's an old saying about free apps that goes, "If the service is free, that means you are the product." In our hyper-connected world, this statement continues to prove itself true. Thanks to the efforts of privacy advocates, however, we now have some tools to fight back.
If you're smart about what you share and where you share it, you can keep your digital life and personal life separate -- as they should be.
Worst companies for data privacy? You've got to see this list
Many companies turn significant profits by harvesting your data and selling it to advertisers, agencies and research organizations. A company that specializes in privacy research and data security recently compiled a list of companies that rank the worst in terms of privacy policies, data usage and overall transparency for users. While you might recognize some companies on this list, some of the names might surprise you with how they're using your data.