It should be no surprise to anybody that social media and tech companies gather a lot of information about you. In most cases, you supply the data willingly (or sometimes begrudgingly) so that you can access their services. Tap or click here for 10 Facebook privacy and security settings you need to change right now.
But many people don’t know that almost every Big Tech company has at least some information on you. If you think about it, where do you suppose targeted advertising comes from? How do they know which ads to serve you?
Apple, Google, and companies like Facebook all have a profile on you. But what exactly do they know? Well, there is a way for you to find out.
Here’s the backstory
For the most part, your location, age, and the device you use are the most important things a company wants to know. From there, they will be able to establish where you go, shop or relax. Together with your age, they slowly build up a profile on your behavior.
Some Big Tech companies have taken steps to minimize your data’s exposure to third-party advertisers, but it doesn’t eradicate it completely. A few months ago Apple introduced its App Tracking Transparency (ATT), which allows iOS users to decide which apps can access their data.
- Users’ Apple ID details
- Data stored in iCloud, such as contacts, photos and email
- App usage information
- Items purchased and browsing history from App Store, iTunes and Apple Books
- Records of your Apple retail store and support transactions
- Records of marketing communications, preferences and other activities
To see what Apple has stored on you, you can download a copy of your personal data. To do this, log into your Apple account here and scroll down to Data & Privacy. From there, tap Manage Your Data and Privacy, then select Get a copy of your data.
Note: You may need to sign in multiple times and get a 2FA code if you’ve enabled that, which you should.
Google tracks more than search
If you have a Google account, the company may know way more about you than some of your closest friends. If you have a smart assistant set up in your house, everything from where you live, work and shop to who your family is and birthdays are potentially known by Google.
The best (and only) way for Google to stop tracking and storing your data is not to use its services at all. But that can be really tough if you rely on it for Gmail and other services. To see what the company knows about you, sign in to your Google account and navigate to the My Activity page here.
Here you can view what Google has saved to your profile, and you can also delete your entire search history, location tracking, YouTube history and personalized advertising. If you have location tracking enabled, Google also keeps tabs on where photos were taken.
Facebook is a data treasure trove
Social media accounts harbor tons of your personal information. This is also why hackers find Facebook or Twitter accounts more valuable than credit card details. And the best part? You supplied the information on your own.
By setting up a Facebook account, the company knows your name, age, where you live, your friends, your interests and even your political affiliation. To see what Facebook has gathered on you and to limit your exposure, you can download a copy of your data.
To do this, log in to your Facebook account on a desktop computer and click the account button in the top right corner. In the drop-down, click Settings & Privacy, and then Settings. On the left pane, click on the third option (Your Facebook Information) and click on Download your information.
Microsoft has more than you think
If you use any of Microsoft’s products, you need to create an account. This is where the data collection starts, and it might be more than you think. Many companies use Office 365, so Microsoft knows who you are, where you work and your job.
If you have a gaming account like Xbox Live or GamePass, the company will be able to tell where you live, what games you like and how often you make purchases.
Luckily, you can also see what the company collects on you. You can navigate to Microsoft’s privacy dashboard to manage your browsing and location data. From here, you can also check other privacy settings for products like Xbox, Windows, Microsoft Teams and Skype.