7 Ways Your Data Can be Harvested: Hint — Even the Weather Apps Aren’t Safe!

Imagine, if you would, jogging outside and getting ready to lose yourself in your favorite Spotify lineup. Mid-stride you’re being hit up for your name and number by some “rando.” Whatever personal info they’re asking for, it’s getting in the way of your Queen jam session (or whoever you’re into — no judgements here).

Enough is enough.

And it’s not just on your run days that we deal with this. Every day you access the internet, you tap into your phone, or activate your WiFi you’re sharing the same personal details.

So, how much of your info is REALLY out there?

What are a few passwords and a maiden name in the broad scheme of things?
A lot actually.

When we talk about data harvesting, we’re talking about thousands of tiny snippets of your life and habits being recorded and transmitted every day.
Every time you search for something on the internet, purchase something online, record health or workout stats on apps, or even look up some arbitrary info because you’re procrastinating a work project, you’re giving away tiny pieces of your personal data.

And AI algorithms are just getting smarter with the way they use, sell, and store these insights.

For example, searching for apps that track ovulation can indicate that you have some interest in pregnancy or conception. Next thing you know, every other ad on your news feed is for a related product — from a conception nutrition guide to the latest in home baby monitors (which have their own level of creepy, fyi).

In addition to using your browser history to identify you as a potential buyer for the REAL internet customers (those seeking consumer data), there are also companies that deal strictly in your personal life. Someone can find almost everything about you from past phone numbers to your Myspace profile from 20-years ago through online services that specialize in “background checks.”

And we all know that old Myspace accounts should remain where they belong — buried along with our “eclectic” taste in music and platform sandals.

People used to fear invasion by tech savvy hackers. What they failed to realize is that people don’t have to be sinister computer geniuses to gain access to your life.

They just have to know how to use Google.

How and when is your data being collected?

Consider this your personal guide to the different ways your data might be accessed by third parties. We’ll make sure to update this as we stumble across the latest updates in consumer trust, as this is only the tip of the iceberg.

1. News Sites

Many cities have migrated their local news to online sites that share location relevant stories and information. Subscribing to these can reflect your location or interest in particular types of content.

Aside from location specific news sites, any time that you subscribe or click on a story in a celebrity or satire site, you’re also sharing valuable insights into your interests and reading habits. For example, if you click through to a parenting news site, you may start seeing similar stories and genres popping up in your feed on the regular.

The more you click through to these types of specific interest stories, the more likely it is that the information will be used to curate new sites and products for you in the future.

News sites also depend heavily on ads to pay the bills. Your activity becomes a priority when they want to generate income via these advertising partnerships.

2. Weather Apps

This is another platform that relies heavily on the sale of consumer data and ad revenue to generate profit. Weather apps aren’t usually paid platforms, meaning that the product isn’t the information being given to consumers, but the consumers themselves.

The latest snowstorm update may seem free — but it’s coming at the cost of your location information and navigation habits. Every time you click on an ad or certain content, this interest is recorded and used to help businesses target you more precisely.

In fact, according to a 2019 report by Geoffrey Fowler of the Washington Post, apps like the Weather Channel actively transmit location and IP information even when consumers aren’t active during the night. Big Brother never sleeps!

3. Facial Recognition

Facial recognition is one of the more controversial uses for your personal information online. Many of us have begun to rely heavily on this technology to access phones and computers instantly.

However, what they don’t know is that these images are being added to a nationwide database used by law enforcement, airlines, government entities, and other corporations to identify customers, suspects, and to track people down for legal purposes.

While this use has been debated in court, biometric recognition doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. The information is simply too valuable to the “powers that be.”

4. Social Media

Did you know that the average consumer contract isn’t written for you to understand? In fact, some would take hours to read and research in full. Companies expect you to skim privacy agreements and contracts, meaning that they put pretty much anything in there that benefits them.

One of the biggest perpetrators of this legal front loading is social media.
Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard about privacy concerns with companies like Facebook and Instagram. However, nearly every social media platform views consumer data as the product.

Nothing in life is free — and the price of connecting to your third-grade crush just happens to be your data. Every group you join, every ad you click on, every page you like and visit becomes another piece of a much larger puzzle.
Once put together, social media sites have a complete profile of your habits, interests, and a wealth of data that’s inferred through your daily activities.

Just imagine how much info can be gleaned from a simple vacation album!

5. Company Correspondence

Ever had that prickly feeling that your work email isn’t exactly private?

Well, bad news — it may NOT be.

More and more, we’re seeing companies and educational institutions that require employees or students to allow third party access to their email accounts or private messaging platforms used for work or school.

When in doubt, ask! If you’re concerned about this, make sure to bring it up to HR and limit any personal communication to personal channels.

The last thing you want is for your boss to know that you spend part of the three hour long weekly meeting binge watching Netflix with one of your co-workers!

6. The Internet of Things (Smart home)

With the comfort that comes with a connected home system comes yet another way for companies to collect and use your data. If you’re using a security system in your home, every time you leave, change the status, or return is being recorded somewhere.

This information is being stored by the parent companies and can sometimes be sold based on the language placed in the contract you’ll sign to use it.
The internet of things goes beyond home security though.

Any time you ask Alexa a question or use your phone to change the thermostat, you’re generating a buffet of information that can be used or sold.

7. Even Incognito isn’t safe.

Companies like Google that require you to have accounts to access email, streaming sites, or even e-commerce platforms are constantly collecting and recording your data in the background. Even if you aren’t logged in, some info can still be recorded and used.

What many consumers don’t realize is just how many things they’re required to log into and how these log-ins may continually open new windows into your online activity.

Even slipping into Incognito mode doesn’t stop Google from tracking your switch to the “anonymous” browser and the types of activity you’re using it for.

Want to continue learning more about the consumer protection and online privacy space?

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