Don’t Feed the Algorithms! How to Protect Your Online Data

The use of our personal data online has gone beyond intuitive and has now entered into the land of creepy Orwellian nightmares.

AI uses all of your touch points to create hyper-personal profiles designed to develop online personas that mirror your behaviors. From here, predicting your wants, needs, and future purchases becomes a calculated game of business to consumer cat and mouse — and guess which role you’re playing?

The internet has become the largest marketplace for consumer data in the history of people…and it’s time the people took it back.

“So, how can I stop companies from harvesting and using my data when I surf the internet?”

We’re so glad you asked…

Recently, we’ve seen a lot of research on the virtues of “data poisoning,” and we wanted to explore this and other methods of protecting yourself online a bit further.

1. How does data poisoning work?

Companies like Google use algorithms that collect and synthesize data in increasingly complicated acts of machine learning.

The source of this data? You.

Everything that you put into the internet becomes fair game — from the street you lived on in fourth grade to the size and style of your latest shopping conquest.

But what happens when you find a way to corrupt this data? You make it impossible for big data brokers to use it, sell it, or to apply it to a larger knowledge base.

Data poisoning can occur when you constantly contribute large amounts of data that isn’t really indicative of your online activities. This can mean using extensions to click on every ad that comes up or using other privacy software that buries your real activities in a flurry of false or damaging information.

Bad data can confuse algorithms and stop many of the invasive practices that infringe on a consumer’s right to privacy. The key is getting people to do this collectively, in volumes that are large enough to disrupt the flow of information necessary for these algorithms to make progress.

2. “Can I withhold data to prevent it from being used?”

Another method of protecting your data from those pesky algorithms heck bent on world domination (getting terminator vibes here) involves withholding it altogether.

How is this possible, you ask?

You’ll need to be extremely conscientious of the places where you share your data online. When you leave a service or unsubscribe from something, make sure that you take your data with you. Unsubscribe, remove accounts, and make an active attempt to limit how and where you share your personal information.

You can also find software that can help with everything from cloaking (hint hint) your online activities to hiding your location and preventing geotargeted ads.

It may feel like the internet will only provide you with access in exchange for pieces of information, but selling your digital soul isn’t the answer to online freedom.

3. “How else can I prevent my personal information from getting out there?”

The short answer is simply not to put more data out there than you absolutely have to. As more and more software companies and debonair, rogue superhero developers on a mission (yep…that’s how our parents see us) tackle the issue of online privacy and consumer trust, you’ll find new tools rapidly becoming available.

Until then, be mindful of how you divulge your data, and of how companies intend to use it. Read the fine print, stay vigilant, and become a part of the solution.

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

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