According to the New York Times, in an article titled, The Ads Think They Know You, most ads that you see online are “tailored just for you’…and ‘powered by vast, hidden datasets that allow advertisers to make eerily accurate guesses about who you are, where you’ve been, how you feel and what you might do next.” Digital advertisers collect and use information about you, for the profit of others, and, perhaps more alarmingly, to influence your economic and political decisions.

Whereas targeted advertising used to be based on contextual cues (visiting the ESPN site meant seeing Nike ads), today’s advertisers, marketers and influencers know a lot about you and send you advertising designed to influence in countless ways, including who you vote for in the next election, based on your personal profile of what you have been reading, watching and listening to online for the past 10-15 years.

Make no mistake, you are being watched and information about what you do online is being shared broadly with brands, including other personal information like your date of birth, favorite color or email address. Worse yet, your data is being shared with cyber criminals who can steal your identity with just three pieces of personal information found easily online: your email address listed in a favorite app; your birthday in your Facebook (or other social media) profile; and your home address (retrieved from simply Googling your name with the word “address”). Used together, the cyber criminal can wreak havoc on your life.

So what can you do? Stop leaving a trail of data whenever you visit a website, use an app, check email or play a game online. Take control of your data by:

  • Checking your settings and tailoring your privacy settings on your computer, phone, social media accounts and other apps. Revoke third-party app permissions and block unnecessary access to your photos, your location, and your contacts list.
  • Use tools to customize the privacy settings in your browser; use a dedicated email account to sign up for a new service; use a password manager to create, store, and manage your passwords, credit cards and other sensitive information; and avoid using public Wi-Fi, and instead use a VPN. Hackers and thieves can easily eavesdrop on public Wi-Fi hotspots and open wireless

These precautions, while time-consuming, will add a layer of security and give you a sense of control over who is tracking you.

Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for our free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics. See more cyber safety and cyber ethics blogs produced exclusively for EarthLink. Looking for a social media parental control? Try a 30-day free trial of Bark. If you sign up after your trial, Bark donates 25% of your monthly fee to Savvy Cyber Kids.

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