You might be surprised to find out just how much of your data is bought and sold on the Internet. We do so much online, but rarely think about how much of that information companies store, save, reuse, and sell. How many times have you left a review about your latest restaurant experience? Or, how many questions did you ask in a private forum before renting a room from AirbBNB? Activity like this, along which social media profiles, shopping histories, and other types of networking information ends up being collected and compiled into a secret score that reflects your online behaviors. This secret number, your consumer score, is sold to retailers in order to influence the way in which a business might interact with you in the future. For example, your consumer score may affect how long you wait on hold when contacting a business about an issue or how many obstacles you might encounter when trying to return an item. So, where do you rank?
The Lowdown on Data Collection
While your consumer ranking used to be a secret, recent legislation in California allows for an individual to request this type of information from the companies. While not all companies need to comply with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), many choose to make browsing data and consumer scores available to the end user. If you request a report, be prepared to see hundreds of pages reflecting your online activity. The report could include many years of purchases, returns, reviews, food orders, and other sites you browsed. It may bring back memories of that delicious chicken parm sandwich you had four years ago or evoke bad memories of the outfit you bought for your cousin’s wedding that ultimately did not make the right impression. It can also include sensitive data relating to things like credit scores and finances.
Besides reliving your past online experiences, you will find several percentage ratings which indicate your online behavior and score you in comparison to other consumers. A few of the rankings you will receive indicate if your behavior was abusive, normal, or fraudulent. For example, if you repeatedly contacted a business about issues with their products, this could affect your rating. If these calls were deemed fraudulent or abusive, you will be pushed down on the rating scale. All these percentages are then formulated into a score and passed along to companies like Amazon. These companies will use this data to personalize your subsequent online experience. In addition to influencing how businesses treat you during future transactions, companies can use this data to build advertisements that reflect your interests and follow your online activity as you browse.
How Can Consumers Keep Their Privacy?
The question remains: what can you do if you discover that you have a low score or have incorrect findings on your report? Should you stop posting bad reviews on Yelp? Should you give up on product complaints if Amazon Prime keeps sending you items in poor condition? What can you do if you want to stop ads from following you around the Internet? It can definitely be an eerie feeling to see an ad pop up on your Instagram account about something you were talking about with your coworker earlier that day. The Internet is far too convenient to stop ordering online or browsing interesting news articles, and posting embarrassing pictures of your best friend on their Facebook for their birthday is way too fun to pass up.
The good news is that there are now legal avenues consumers can take to protect their data and their privacy. Laws like the CCPA and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have opened the door to allowing you access to your data as well as provide you with the ability to request data deletion. In the U.S., the CCPA is the first comprehensive privacy law to enter the privacy arena and is changing the way people monitor their information online. The CCPA, which is now in effect, provides California consumers access and control over their personal information. It allows them to have a say in how organizations collect, use, and disseminate this data. For example, consumers can request information regarding how companies are processing or distributing their data, request data deletions, and opt out of sales involving their personal information. Businesses are also required to disclose more about data usage and send out privacy notices in order to comply with the law.
Individuals in the other forty-nine states still have privacy rights too. You may notice that many websites are now executing privacy notices or cookie pop-ups when you visit their sites. Since many of these companies are subject to laws like the CCPA and GDPR, they are creating blanket “notices” in an attempt to achieve compliance. If you do not want a website to track your activity or collect your data, there are steps you can take to limit this. Deny the cookies. Go into your accounts and increase your privacy settings. Opt out of data collection for advertising purposes. Do not sync your personal contacts with apps or social media websites. Install privacy protection software. Monitor and update location sharing on your mobile devices. Conduct online activity on a private browser. All of these things can help limit what the data companies collect about you and what gets compiled into your scoring report.
While the Internet is great in many ways, it is also presents much uncertainty. We unknowingly create and distribute loads of data on a daily basis. Until recently, people did not even know that consumer ranking existed. Now that we know, more can be done to limit it and control what the Internet knows about us. American consumers, especially those that have rights under the CCPA, should request these reports to determine if they want to delete anything, remedy incorrect information, or opt out of data sales. If a company is non-compliant, you can turn to the CCPA’s enforcement mechanisms. Unfortunately, until the U.S. comes up with a federal law resembling the CCPA or the GDPR, many consumers will lack the legal resources they need to increase their online privacy. Until then, continue to use the tools discussed above to monitor your data and limit collection.