You’re flooded by ads every time you visit a website: small banners, big rollovers, annoying pop-up ads, colorful ads, video ads, you name it.
But to be effective, those ads must address your needs and wants. Let’s say you’re a 42-year-old man from Chicago with a passion for cars and extreme sports. You’re likely interested in different things than a 23-year-old woman from Germany, who’s into makeup and travel. But how can they tell who’s who?
The Internet knows who you are
Here’s where the shady business starts. Websites, internet providers, and data harvesting companies, called Data Brokers, all record user online behavior, combine multiple sources, and build virtual profiles of you. They then sell the profile to advertisers who use it to bombard you with messages across websites, platforms and devices. Of course, the more detailed the profile, the more valuable it is to advertisers. But if you think that’s creepy, you don’t know the half of it.
You’re being auctioned right now
According to data shared by an ONG called the Irish Council on Civil Liberties (ICCL), your digital identity is real-time bid on by advertisers whenever you land on a website that serves ads.
If you’re American, this happens up to 747 times a day, and if you’re an EU citizen, 376 times a day.
Most likely, the lower European numbers are caused by the tougher privacy conditions enforced by General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Nevertheless, in rough numbers, that means that, if you live in the US or the EU, your personal information is auctioned off and sold every few minutes, which should really get you thinking.
Your identity brings in a lot of cash
Just from the two markets alone, the Real-Time-Bidding (RTC) Industry has managed to score more than $117 billion last year, the ICCL report said.
The real numbers, however, could be much more significant: the study doesn’t cover other parts of the world and it includes the ad networks of Google and Microsoft but misses giants like Amazon and Facebook.
What can you do to prevent this from happening?
The volume of information you create by using the Internet is huge and it can all usually be traced back to you. In time, the information builds up into a comprehensive personal archive about you. This is your digital footprint, and managing it can be extremely time-consuming. Think about all the newsletters you registered for but then forgot. Think of old accounts on websites that may no longer exist. Especially when you have to deal with Data Brokers, taking back your personal data, or wiping it entirely, can be extremely tricky. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few things you could do to improve your privacy:
- Don’t give more personal information than needed, especially on social media. Even if a website doesn’t sell your data, it can still fall victim to a data breach and your data can be exposed.
- Use a Private Network (VPN) to connect to the Internet. A VPN encrypts data transfers and hides your real identity online
- Constantly update your devices, and install a security solution to protect them from malware
- Use a browser that has a private or incognito mode, and periodically delete browser cookies and cash
- Consider using Digital Identity Protection (DIP). DIP is an easy and convenient way of managing your Digital Footprint. It automatically searches for leaked personal data online, including on the Dark Web, and promptly alerts you if any of your private information has been exposed. It can also help you find and delete old accounts and assists you in contacting Data Brokers in order to legally delete their records of you.