Tracking and selling so much of our sensitive personal data that trying to protect our privacy may seem like a pointless practice.
We may disable location tracking in the phone app to find new apps the next time we check. We can turn off personalized ads and still be bombarded by marketers who ignore our wishes. We can be fooled by language designed to protect the company's access to data instead of our privacy.
All of this surveillance allows advertisers to manipulate us to spend more. Those struggling financially may be targeted by predatory lenders and other seed companies. If the database is compromised, criminals can buy our information for just a few dollars and use it in disguise or on targets for various scams.
As individuals, we have limited ability to stop praying. Meaningful action usually comes from regulators and legislators. But we can take a few steps to restore a small but significant portion of privacy and send a signal to companies that we don't like what they're doing.
“It's a way of making a statement to a company that you're not going with what they're doing,” said Bob Sullivan, an independent journalist, a consumer privacy lawyer and author of Gotcha Capitalism.
Set location tracking limit
You may wonder how often you visit a liquor store, go to the gym, or attend a religious service – this is your own business. But many companies are in the business of collecting and using such data for marketing and other purposes. You can throw a wrench at this relentless location tracking by changing a few settings on your device.
On iPhone and iPad, go to “Settings” and then “Privacy” to find “Location Services”. With Android devices, go to “Settings” and then “Location” to find “App location permissions”. Thomas Germain, author of technology and privacy at Consumer Report, says you shouldn't worry about “breaking” an app by reducing or eliminating your ability to track it. If you want to do something with the app that requires your location, the app will make it easy to launch it again, says Germain.
Check these settings regularly on all your devices and delete any apps you are not using. The fewer apps you have, the less opportunities companies have to suck up and sell your data, Sullivan notes.
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Stop collecting other data
If you use a Google GOOGL,
Apps or services, your location history can be saved and used even after you stop tracking. Your searches and other activities are also being saved, so consider turning off Google's ability to store that data, Germain said.
To do this, open Google.com in a browser, log in to your account, and click your icon in the upper right. Select “Manage your Google Account”, then “Privacy and personalization”. Under “Your data and privacy options,” select “What you've done and where you've been.” You'll see options for reviewing the information that Google is storing about you, as well as ways to turn off data storage and delete stored history.
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Some Google apps may not work without this data, but you can always restart these functions, says Germain.
“I think it's something that people should check off and see if trade-offs are valuable,” he said.
Another setting on this page you can toggle off: ad personalization. Google tries to make tailor-made ads do what you want or need; Probably not.
Your device has similar options. With Apple AAPL,
For iPhones and iPads, turn off “Allow applications to request” in the “Tracking” section of privacy settings. For Android devices, click “Delete Ad ID” under “Ads” in the “Advanced” section of the privacy settings. Stopping ad personalization won't stop advertisers from blocking you altogether, but it will reduce the number of companies that have your data, says Germain.
If you have an iPhone or iPad, a feature of the iOS 15 operating software update called “App Privacy Report” can show how you are being profiled and tracked, advises Emery Rowen, policy advisor at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
“Turn it on, keep it running for a week or two, and then it'll tell you a very detailed list of what apps are doing,” Rowan said. “This is a great resource for iOS users.”
Related: Apple's Cook on privacy: ‘A data-industrial complex built on surveillance'
More steps need to be taken
An easy way to reduce data mining is to switch to privacy-minded browsers like Firefox or Brave, suggests Germain.
Also, try to slow down. Many sites and apps ask you to decide privacy on the fly, making it easy to click on the wrong place in your rush to get rid of the pop-up screen.
“All it takes is one wrong answer, and all of a sudden, you let it go,” Sullivan said.
Check if you have other options, such as the online privacy protection service Discover is rolling out for debit and credit card holders.
Lastly, if you care about privacy, let your lawmakers know. Customers are “unfortunately equipped” to fight all the ways to dig and use our data, Rowan said.
“The real ‘quick tip' is that you need to call your representative and ask them to support strong privacy laws,” he said.
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Liz Weston writes for CFP® NerdWallet. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @LisWeston.