How to Prevent Companies From Collecting Data About You
You can't become completely invisible, but you can reduce what companies know about you.
You may be surprised at how much personal information is collected about you. Every time you buy something online, like a page on Facebook and complete a survey, companies collect that information to build your profile, which they sell to other companies to entice you to buy more items. It's a vicious cycle.
But you may soon be able to see exactly what these companies know about you. Acxiom, one of the biggest collectors of data, is creating a tell-all website for consumers, according to a report from the Financial Times.
In fact, Acxiom sells a product to marketers called Personicx, which classifies each U.S. household into one of 70 segments based on specific consumer and demographic characteristics, such as Career-Centered Singles. That way, companies can identify groups of people that share values, income levels, education and any number of other characteristics and then send ads their way.
While some of Acxiom's data comes from public records, a big portion is gathered from your own online activities.
You can opt out of seeing personalized ads (Acxiom lets you do that by submitting a request, similar to Google's opt-out tool), but you can't do much to stop them from gathering data about you, short of using incognito browser modes or anonymizing browsers such as Tor, which can be a daunting task for those who are not particularly tech-savvy. [See also: How Online Services Can Help Preserve Your Anonymity]
But you can reduce the data that is gathered about you. Here's how:
- Avoid online surveys and inquiries. Acxiom said household interests like travel, reading and cooking, as well as family milestones, like a new baby, are gathered from surveys that a household member has completed.
- Reduce what you buy online and consider shopping locally instead. Acxiom collects purchase data from companies, which can give a pretty clear picture of what's going on in your life. Did you recently order a crib online? Then don't be surprised to see ads for disposable diapers and baby formula when you are browsing the Internet.
- Think twice before you like a page on Facebook or add one to your Google+ circles. Acxiom collects publicly available information from all social media websites that allows such collection, including Facebook and YouTube. That's how the company knows which social media sites are used in a household, whether they are heavy or light users and whether they sign on to fan pages or watch YouTube videos.
Acxiom said the consumer website will be launched later this year.