What Does the Internet Know About You?

We gave a ShopTalk here at SDM on June 14, 2018 titled “What does the Internet Know about You”. It seemed useful enough to add a summary here.

The main thing to note, is that every single thing you do on the internet is tracked by someone and usually by multiple companies. But even though that is happening, it isn’t all bad or scary. Each person needs to think about what they want to do, and how private they want to be, and why, and then make choices to support that.

The world is changing a little bit with the advent of GDPR which is the European Union regulations that say that companies need to explain to people what data they are collecting and what they are doing with it. That’s why you are suddenly getting new Privacy Statements from every company you deal with. They are much easier to read, and in a more standard format. They don’t change what is happening, but they are one step toward making it clearer. This is also why you will start getting pop ups on web pages that say – we use cookies – if you want to know how, click here etc.


GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) – EU regulations that apply to any company with a website that is accessible in the EU. Companies must provide a clear explanation of

  • How data is collected
  • What they are doing with your data
  • Opt-out
  • Clear general language
  • Notify promptly if data breach
  • Right to be forgotten
  • How data is protected

Some of the bigger companies, like Facebook and Google, are allowing you to download a copy of the data they have about you. It is extensive and some of it is unreadable, but again it is a step in the right direction.  Others like Amazon do not make it this easy.  

Get Your Information

How to see what some companies know about you –

  1. Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/help/1701730696756992?helpref=hc_global_nav
    Settings > Your Facebook Information > Download Your Information
  2. Twitter – in your profile > your picture > Settings and Privacy > Your Twitter data
  3. Amazon – Account & Lists (no single download, have to look at each item)
  4. Google – https://takeout.google.com/settings/takeout?pli=1
    Settings > Personal info & privacy > Control your content
  5. Apple – https://www.apple.com/privacy/approach-to-privacy/
    Go to Apple’s Privacy Policy page (https://www.apple.com/legal/privacy/en-ww/)
    Scroll down to the section titled “Access to Personal Information.” It’s worth reading and explains that Apple will provide you with a copy of the information it holds if you request it. Click the “Privacy Contact Form” link. Choose your language. Select “I have a question about privacy issues” from the drop-down box. Fill in your first and last name, email, subject and comments. Say that you are requesting a copy of your personal information in the comments field. Click submit. They will email a response.
  6. Run a Google Search using your name (variations with and without locations) – look through several pages

Remember, if you aren’t paying for it, then you are the product. Ads are how Facebook and Google make money. We shouldn’t expect that they aren’t going to do everything they can to do that well. In fact why would we want to see ads that have nothing to do with us? A lot of this is to make our user experience better. How can Google provide useful search results if they aren’t tracking everyone’s searches and which results people click on. How can Facebook show interesting items in your news feed if they don’t know what you like?   Much of your data is used by companies only in the aggregate. They want to know what everyone is doing, not just what you are doing.

Kind of Personal Information

What kinds of things they know:

  1. Location
  2. Equipment
  3. Pages visited
  4. Likes/Follows
  5. Clicks
  6. How long/How often
  7. Contacts
  8. Phone info like calls and messages
  9. Search history
  10. Map usage

This shows the categories of information that Google collects.

Other things to note

Companies like Apple are not selling ads, so they have no reason to track the same data as Facebook and Google, and they don’t. They track data about what you do with their products so they can sell you more of their products. It is useful to think about what the company’s purpose is when you are reviewing what data they may have on you.  

Your friends can also be a source of your data. If someone you know has shared their Contacts with a program, then whatever information they have in their contacts about you is now known.  

One of the most important things here is that you need to have some trust that the company that has this data about you is keeping it safe and not spreading it all over. That is where things have fallen apart. You can change your settings, for example in Google so that you don’t get targeted ads. It doesn’t mean they won’t track your data, but it means that you won’t see ads that result from that data, and so perhaps your data is shared less with the companies running the ads – perhaps.  

The GDPR also has added a “Right to be Forgotten” which says that if you send a request to a company to have them delete all of the data they have about you, then they must do that. You would have to do this for every company, and stop using their websites and products. It is only really practical if there is a specific site that you feel is abusing your data or has incorrect data.  

That’s it – Hope you found it helpful. If you want to talk about your own specifics, please make an appointment and we can help.

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