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Shocking look at how much of your data companies are sharing

Shocking look at how much of your data companies are sharing
Zerbor | Dreamstime.com Dreamstime.com

You probably do this all the time. It seems like a simple thing that everyone does so why not?

Unfortunately, dozens of companies, or maybe hundreds of companies have your private information as the result of this seemingly minor oversight. Worse, they also have your photos and are using it for some sketchy research.

What's this mistake? It's mindlessly reading through an online site's terms of service. Those are the excruciatingly long, page-after-page privacy terms that just about everyone scrolls through without reading.

It's understandable. However, it's critically important that you slow down and read those terms - you'll be shocked by how much of your privacy you're giving up.

Companies like PayPal, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and others share your personal information with dozens of other companies. The idea is simple: The more these companies know about you, the better they can tailor your experience to your interests and post ads for products that you like.

Who's Seeing Your Private Information?

The problem with letting companies like PayPal, Google, Microsoft, Apple and others collect your private information isn't so much that they have your personal information. After all, the U.S. government does a pretty good job of keeping tabs on these large companies.

The problem is that they share your information with third parties, meaning other companies that you may not know anything about. Are those companies reputable?

Scarier, who are those third-party companies sharing your personal information with? Is it any wonder that you're getting robocalls from companies you've never heard of?

Is this how hackers and cybercriminals get a hold of your Social Security number, your mailing address, your photos and more? That's one way they do that, yes.

Just check out the image above. It was created by a researcher, based on information provided by the online payment service PayPal.

It's a visual representation of the companies that PayPal shares your personal information with. That includes payment processors, marketing companies and other sites like Microsoft, which in this case uses your photos for "research!"

Scary! The Information They Know

To be fair, online companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft have made great strides the past few years in being transparent about your privacy and security. Keep reading to find out how to manage your privacy settings.

However, they collect so much information about you and often show it to you in mind-numbing page after page of settings, confusing words and phrases. You often don't know if you should check mark a setting or un-check mark it.

Unfortunately, you must take the time to read through all these settings to ensure that you're limiting the amount of information they share with other companies. It's scary because sites like PayPal share your name, Social Security number and your photos (and maybe more) with third parties!

Two Things You Must Do

1. Read through terms of service

If you sign up for an online account, say Google, buck the trend and read those terms. If you're uncomfortable with any of their terms, do not check mark Continue or Yes or I Have Read or whatever wording that site uses.

2. Find the private information the sites share

Every reputable website has a page where you can see the information they collect about you. It's typically listed under Privacy Policy or something similar.

See the Private Information They Know

The trouble with agreeing to let a site like PayPal share your personal information is, it's tough to go back and change those settings. It's easy to change your mind, but not easy to change what you've already agreed to share.

However, you can go to most sites like Facebook and Google to see the information they're collecting about you. Then, change those settings.

On Facebook, for example, start by clicking on the down arrow to the right of your name on the menu on the top of the screen. Select Settings >> Privacy >> there, you can Edit some settings.

Next, select Block on the left-hand menu. Scroll down until you see a blue Privacy and click on it.

Take your time going through the information that Facebook and other sites share about you with other companies. Take charge of your privacy.

Google's most useful security settings

You use Google multiple times a day every day, right? We all do.

You'll be shocked by how much information Google collects about you. There's good news here, though - Google does a really good job of letting you manage your security settings and control your privacy.

Click here to find out how to manage your privacy settings on Google.

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