Peter Sondergaard, a former Gartner associate, once said: “Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.” When a company effectively manages data collection and analysis, it has access to a wealth of knowledge about consumer behavior. Companies use this data to target potential customers and cater information to their wants and needs.
However, users may associate internet data mining with exploitation. When companies collect data about consumers, it can feel like an invasion of privacy if the company’s motivations and collection policies aren’t transparent.
Finding out more about the strategies used in data collection may help you feel less exposed.
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An Overview of Personal Data Collection
Technology companies may use different strategies and tools to collect and leverage consumer data online, including:
- Cookies: If cookies are enabled when you visit a website, your web browser stores tiny bits of data. Let’s say a consumer has filled their e-commerce cart, but decides to wait to purchase til later. Stored cookies are how these sites know what should be in the cart when the consumer returns to buy. Cookies are also used to gather other types of information, such as how a consumer might behave or navigate a website.
- Browser fingerprinting: Technology companies implement browser fingerprinting to study online users’ movements and behaviors. The company collects browser identification points to match online behaviors and analyze browser activities.
- Browsing history: Similar to fingerprinting, browsing history allows technology companies to analyze consumer browsing activities to learn their characteristics, needs or future behaviors. It allows companies to tailor personalized ads to consumer interests.
- Scripts: When using a website, you may unknowingly download a web bug or beacon, which is a file that’s placed on a webpage to analyze your behavior and actions. Once downloaded, this script reports your behaviors back to the server and a company captures it to predict your online actions.
- Questionnaires and surveys: Sometimes technology companies post online questionnaires or surveys on their websites or social media pages that consumers are eager to fill out. Data is collected from these surveys and may be used to create targeted ads and individualized marketing strategies.
- Social media: In addition to analyzing your behaviors on their own websites, companies may also use social media sites to collect personal online data. Through these sites, companies can usually find out consumers’ interests, hobbies, needs and tastes.
What Kind of Data Do Tech Companies Collect About You?
When companies post questionnaires online, they’re collecting first-party data because they’re engaging directly in data collection themselves. Companies that pay for data collected by data brokers or other outside companies are gathering third-party data.
Either way will comprise quantitative data, qualitative data or a combination. Quantitative data is numerical, measurable data, while qualitative data might be a collection of photos, text or any other varied forms of data. Companies must implement an extensive data storage system and may employ data scientists to analyze and utilize their data efficiently.
Why Do Companies Collect Data?
Some companies see data as a resource that can be used to help more accurately tailor their advertising and marketing campaigns. By personalizing the services they offer or the ads online users view, they can increase sales and exposure to people who are already interested in their products or services.
For example, Amazon uses consumer data to implement dynamic pricing because this data makes it easier for the company to determine what consumers are willing to pay. The company also uses data to identify potentially fraudulent transactions, encourage consumers to buy more items, and to run fulfillment centers efficiently.
How to Find Out What Tech Companies Know About You
If you’re trying to avoid online security risks, you may want to understand exactly what technology companies know about you. Different platforms use various methods to collect specific data about you. To provide transparency, these platforms allow users to request reports on the information that’s been collected.
You can request the data Google has collected from you by following these steps:
- Select the data you want included from the Google products you interact with.
- Customize the delivery method for your data, including the export, file type and maximum archive file size.
- Receive your data archive as a link by email.
- Click the link to access your data and delete the data you no longer want included in your Google account.
Your data archive file includes information on your Google activity. Your file may be filled with videos you watched, your location, device information and the information cookies or other data collection methods have gathered about you.
To access the data Apple collects about you, follow these steps:
- Sign into your Apple account to access the “Data and Privacy” portal.
- Choose “Get a copy of your data” under the “Manage Your Data” screen.
- Select all data you want to download.
- Choose the maximum size for your data file.
- Receive your data file through an emailed link within seven days.
Depending on the data you choose to download, your Apple data file may contain information on your iCloud notes, marketing subscriptions, Apple Music activity and Apple ID account activity.
You can also download the data Facebook collects about you by first signing into your account. Next, follow these steps:
- Go to “Privacy and Settings” and choose “Settings.”
- Click on “Your Facebook Information.”
- Click “View,” located near “Download Your Facebook Information.”
- Select the data categories you want to see.
- Select the format, quality, and date range of data you want to see.
- Choose “Create File” and receive your data download instantly.
Depending on the data categories you choose, your Facebook data download file may contain your photos, posts and videos. It may also include a synopsis of your site activity, such as pages you like or friends you interacted with.
To download your Instagram data, follow these steps:
- Log in to your Instagram account and go to your Settings.
- Click on “Privacy and Security.”
- Click “Request Download” located under “Data Download.”
- Provide your email address where you’d like the data link emailed.
- Enter your Instagram account password when prompted.
- Receive an email with a link to your data and additional instructions on accessing the file.
Your Instagram data file contains information on what you posted on the site, your interactions with other users, and the accounts you follow on the site.
You can access your LinkedIn data by first logging into your account and navigating to your profile. Next, follow these steps:
- Click on “Settings and Privacy.”
- Navigate to the “Privacy” tab.
- Under “Getting a copy of your data,” select the data you want to see and click “Request archive.”
- Receive an email with a link to the data you selected.
Depending on the type of data you ask to download, you may receive information on your profile, videos, photos, or articles you posted, and interactions with other users.
How to Protect Your Digital Privacy
There are ways to take control of your personal data and minimize the type and amount of data that’s collected. Implement these techniques to protect yourself online:
- Keep your email address and contact information private.
- Avoid keeping your information on public data storage solutions.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) instead of a public network.
- Block and delete third-party cookies to avoid tracking methods.
- Use data encryption methods when you store data.
Technology companies collect consumer data to analyze consumer behavior. If you’re fascinated by data collection methods or the way personal data is used, you may want to learn more about data science schools and the education they provide.
By pursuing a data science education online or in person, you’ll learn more about data collection methods and security. The intricacies of these online data collection and analysis processes are what allow technology companies to advance their products and create effective advertising strategies.