Is my personal data being sold?
Most likely it is. And here’s how you are unwittingly making that happen every day when you use your mobile.
Personal data is often compared to oil - it powers today’s most profitable companies, just like fossil fuels energized those of the past. But the consumers it’s extracted from often know very little about how much of their information is collected, who gets to utilize it, and how much is it worth.
Every day, hundreds of companies, you may not even know exist, gather facts about you. This information may then flow to academic researchers, hackers, governments or a bunch of companies trying to sell you their products and services.
What do they know about us?
Third-party companies buy or license our personal data, thus accumulating thousands of attributes each for billions of users. Today, if you use a smartphone or a credit card, it isn’t difficult for these companies to determine if you’ve recently bagged a new job, whether you’re pregnant, trying to lose weight, planning on relocating, listen to a certain genre of music, or even how you swipe and tap on your smartphone.
Accenture, a technology and consulting company, runs a marketing and analytics branch called Accenture Interactive that combines datasets from sources including people’s purchase history and location to help its clients build customer profiles for advertising. In 2020, the company spent $3,250,000 lobbying on issues like artificial intelligence, the Digital Dollar, and COVID-19 contact tracing, according to public records.
Deloitte, an auditing and advisory company, provides services like PredictRisk, which uses information including people’s hobbies, interests, and financial data to generate a health risk prediction score and help life insurance companies figure out how likely people are to buy their products.
How are they doing it?
Most of us aren’t aware of our activities being tracked online. “Companies are collecting data these days on all the interactions, on all the touchpoints between them and customers, in the normal course of doing business,” says Elea Feit, senior fellow at Wharton Customer Analytics.
For example, an ecommerce company would be keeping track of all the emails it sends you and whether you click on any of the links inside the email, also tracking your visits to its site and subsequent purchases. “Every time you interact with the company, you should expect that the company is recording that information and connecting it to you,” she notes.
Why track us anyway?
Companies have legitimate business purposes for tracking consumers. For example, a business that knows you’re a pet owner based on your searches for dog food could offer you discounts on its dog shampoos. Companies can also use your data to improve product designs and performance. However, some companies do sell our personal data, working with third-party data brokers.
Buyers of this data gather information about a customer’s behavior across multiple interactions with various entities. And in all likelihood, the consumer doesn’t know that their data is being sold to this third-party broker.
Is there a way out of this mess?
The truth is that most users don’t think twice before handing over their data to various businesses that they interact with on a daily basis. Eerily, people are being trained to give up data to get something in return, such as a discount code, or only to fit in with society, hence normalizing personal data submission.
Michael Kearns, co-author of The Ethical Algorithm, believes that people can do little by themselves to protect their data privacy. “Even following all your best practices isn’t going to be enough if you want to use Google, you want to use email, you want to use social media, you want to use navigation apps,” he says. “If you really want to have true privacy and security, you have to go offline.”
How Doosra can help
Although one might not have control over their personal data being sold and bartered for commercial benefits, one can still add an effective layer of security around one’s digital privacy. A Doosra number is a virtual secondary number that can be used with the help of an app on your phone.
Doosra only allows calls from numbers that you authorise and auto-blocks the rest, sending them to voicemail, so you decide who can call you and who cannot. This way, spammers, scammers and stalkers cannot reach you even when they have access to your data, making you digitally safer and smarter.