Privacy Policy – Read at Least One of These

A site’s privacy policy is one of the most important documents you should read, especially when you need to sign up for an account. Every website should have one, and it should detail exactly what kind of data it’s collecting from you, how they’re going to use that information, and who is entitled to that information if and when they get sold, bought, or merged. The privacy policy is a sister-document to the User Agreement or Terms and Conditions, which usually states that by using the site, you are also agreeing to some level of data collection by way of tracking cookies and IP Address logs.

True, these two documents aren’t the most thrilling pieces of writing in the world, but it’s very important that you familiarize yourself with the type of language they use. Also you’re agreeing to something! Why would you ever agree to something if you don’t understands the terms and conditions? We’re all in the habit of clicking “Yes, I agree to the Terms and Conditions” box just to get to the next screen. Most of the time no harm will come of it, but do understand that the legalese most often protects the site owner first and the users second.

Most importantly though, the privacy policies of a website will state that the information they collect about you will be shared with their partners, including advertisers, in order to better target you as a potential buyer of a product or service. A great number of sites are connected to Google, which means that your searches and its contents are being monitored, collected, and shared with any company partnered with Google so that ads relevant to your interests are more likely to pop up in banners, side panels, and “promoted” sections of other sites you visit.

Don’t willfully put yourself in the dark about this type of practice. Read over a privacy policy and user agreement at least once just to see how your personal information is being used. If you don’t care, carry on. If you do, then learn ways to protect yourself by doing research, or by reading more posts from my blog. No pressure! Just letting you know it’s there!

Update: Collusion is Now Called Lightbeam

In one of my earliest posts, I mentioned a Firefox add-on called “Collusion”, which displayed third-party tracking cookies in a circle graph, allowing you to see from what sites these cookies are coming. After its experimental phase ended and the add-on launched for real, it changed its name to Lightbeam. This add-on is an important step in understanding how your activity is being tracked simply by going about your everyday business online. Many people might see an alarming number of circles and triangles fanning out from their favorite websites, while others who are more conscious about their online privacy will see very few. The less white you see on your Lightbeam add-on, the better:

Lightbeam

It’s never too late to take privacy into your own hands. Do you want to be advertised to every time you open up your browser? Are you sure you want strangers and corporations finding out your likes and dislikes for the sole purpose of being better equipped to sell you something? Keep in mind that Lightbeam only shows you who is tracking you; it doesn’t do anything to prevent it from happening. To maximize your security at even the most basic level, install Adblock Plus and Ghostery. It takes a while to set up so you don’t block your favorite social buttons, or to show support for your favorite Youtube channels that make money from ad revenue, but it’s well worth your time. Time is not an excuse, because it only takes minutes. Difficulty is not an excuse, because setup is very easy. What are you waiting for?

Social Logins: Who Did You Let In? [Stickied to Top Now]

social-login3Think before you click. If you shop online, you’ve probably seen it before: social login buttons that allow you to create a brand new account with a website without filling out the usual forms. If you thought voluntarily filling in those annoying little boxes with your personal information was getting a little too close for comfort, can you imagine the kind of information you’re giving up by allowing them access to your social media accounts?!

Let’s get one thing straight: unless you outright lied about every bit of information about yourself or fiddled around with the security options onfacebook-personal-profile-marketing-work-education-settings-public the social network account you’ve chosen to use at a social login gateway, you’re handing over all the information you’ve mistakenly (or unwittingly) marked as “Public”. This includes your birthday, Pages you’ve liked, friends you’ve connected to, everything on your wall, your personal websites, other social media account usernames you listed, etc. But you’re not the only victim here. Even your friends who have Public profiles will have their data collected simply because they’re connected to you. And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: the nature of social media marketing as we see it today. Have you even read Facebook’s Data Use Policy?

This type of information collection has its drawbacks. You can’t filter out irrelevant data, and you’ll get tons of it in the dragnet. However, it will help build a scarily accurate portrait of individuals who have already signed up for your services. By logging in with your social media account, you’re doing the equivalence of clicking “Agree” in the Terms and Agreements segment of every piece of software you’ve ever installed without actually reading the Terms and Agreements. Once you put your data out there, it’s no longer yours to keep, alter, or hide. Think before you click.