From social media platforms to email providers, tons of places on the web want to scoop up your private data. Don’t forget about online stores and personal services, either. Your details are major commodities to most businesses on the web — and most have little regard for your privacy.
Advertisers and marketers don’t know who you are. But your behavior is tracked and assigned a unique identifier, called a Mobile Advertising ID (MAID). This tiny snippet of information contains where you live, what you shop for or what you recently searched online.
Until recently, there had been very little that you could do to block your MAID in marketing campaigns. Apple somewhat put a stop to this by allowing iOS users to choose who can target them. But for criminals, if they can match the ID with a person, they stand to profit greatly.
Here’s the backstory
Normally, there would be no way for companies or advertising agencies to know who the MAID belongs to. It’s a collection of data sets, and there shouldn’t be any personally identifiable information (PII).
But Vice’s Motherboard discovered that one company offers the linking of MAIDs to their respective PII. Motherboard posed as a potential data client and was told by the company in question that they have “one of the largest repositories of current, fresh MAIDS<>PII in the USA.” The CEO of the company boasted that all their data sets connect.
This poses a considerable privacy risk for everyday mobile phone users. The information that the company can link to your MAID includes:
- Full name
- Physical address
- Phone number
- Email address
- IP address, if available
“If shady data brokers are selling this information, it makes a mockery of advertisers’ claims that the truckloads of data about Americans that they collect and sell is anonymous,” Senator Ron Wyden told Motherboard.
The revelation that data brokers can connect advertising IDs to mobile phone users should send up a red flag for everyone. This is particularly problematic for members of law enforcement, elected officials, members of the military and other high-risk individuals.
Here’s a silver lining
If you use an iOS device, you can opt out of personalized advertising through Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT). The option appeared earlier this year to stop apps from tracking your online behavior.
On your iOS device, do this:
- Open Settings.
- Tap Privacy.
- Scroll all the way down and tap Apple Advertising.
- To disable personalized ads, toggle the switch next to Personalized Ads to the left.
- You can also tap on the View Ad Targeting Information to see what information Apple has on you.
Recently, Google added more options for Android users, too. Just follow these steps to opt out:
- Tap Settings.
- Navigate to Google.
- Tap the Ads option and toggle the switch for Opt out of Ads Personalization. When Google implements the change, advertisers will see a string of zeros instead of your Advertising ID.