You might be surprised to find out that your personal data could cost a lot.
Most people don’t realize that their own personal data is an asset. Your data — information about you — is considered to be valuable. Companies use it all the time. But there’s a lot to consider when you value your personal data when you consider who wants your personal data, and when you figure out how to protect your personal data.
Let’s start with data protection.
How Can You Protect Your Personal Data?
Before we go into why people want your data, let’s take a look at the most important aspect: Protection. You can protect through a combination of good habits and tools like a VPN. VPNs make you anonymous when you browse the web. It makes it so that people can’t track where you go, collecting information about your browsing history and your hobbies. And it protects you overall from things like phishing attempts and malicious attacks. So if you really want to protect your personal data, you want to use a VPN.
In addition to that, you want to make sure that you’re cautious about where you post your personal information. Look at your social media accounts in particular. Social media is dangerous because it encourages you to share your personal information, far beyond what you really should be sharing.
So protect yourself by developing good data habits.
Now, let’s dig into why your data is wanted.
Why Is Your Data Wanted?
Your data is wanted by both corporations and malicious attackers. Let’s take a look at corporations first.
Have you ever wondered why social media accounts are free? It’s because you aren’t the user of the social media account. You’re the product. Corporations are buying your information. They are buying information about your spending habits and your demographics. They are using it to advertise to you. Advertisers pay money to access you and your personal information and then they advertise to you, hoping to capture your money. So, corporations are constantly buying and selling your information. It’s very likely that there are dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of companies with your information right now.
Second, there are malicious attackers. There are malicious attackers who want to collect your information for the purposes of identity theft. They will often purchase information in the form of lists, and these lists could include hundreds or thousands of people at once.
As you can see, your data is incredibly valuable.
How Much Would People Sell Their Personal Information For?
People have put a price on their private data before. Many people would sell their purchase history for less than $100. Also their browsing history, location, and other vital information. People don’t value their information very highly.
This also indicates that most people are fine with someone having their information if they are paid for it. But they may not realize how that information is being used. That information is being used to convince them into spending money, through advertising. And it’s being used to predict information about them.
But that’s perhaps good news because their information is actually being sold for far less.
How Much Do Advertisers Buy Personal Information For?
Take a look at a social media platform like Facebook. Advertisers actually don’t directly buy personal information. They buy ads that are targeted using personal information. So effectively, the personal information is free for them; they’re paying for advertising based on it.
So, your information is being sold for very little. An advertiser can narrow down to a 34-year-old violin player in Wyoming demographic and find you, and they will only pay a few cents per click to target you with an ad. And this ad may be quite effective because it is going to be designed for your specific demographic.
Advertisers may also buy large chunks of demographic information, browsing history, and buying habits so that they can mine the data. They may use this to make determinations about their own sales systems or scoring. So advertisers aren’t always buying personal information to directly target you, but they are buying them to target and improve upon their ads.
Many people don’t know about this. Partly, the Cambridge Analytica scandal was because people didn’t realize that Facebook was selling their personal information to advertisers, and the information should not have been sold without consent.
But many platforms do actually have consent built-in. It’s in the Terms of Service. The Terms of Service can state that any information added to or generated on a site becomes their property and can be shared. And if you aren’t paying attention to these warnings, you could be in trouble.
How Much Do Malicious Attackers Buy Personal Information For?
Now, what about malicious attackers? Unfortunately, the answer is still that the price is very low. People can go on the dark net and buy lists of personal information for a few dollars. This is a win/win, because the data can be sold infinitely by the person who has it, and because the malicious attackers immediately get large swathes of information that they can then use for identity theft and other purposes.
When people buy dark net lists, it’s not always for illegal purposes. Sometimes they’re advertisers that are just looking for mailing lists. But for the most part, it’s going to be for something like credit card fraud or identity theft. Luckily, people can search the internet to find out whether they may be on one of those dark net lists.
Why Does It Matter How Much Personal Data Costs?
Now we’ve talked about how much personal data costs, but why does it really matter?
It matters how people value their own personal data, because it indicates that people don’t take their personal information very seriously. Personal information is becoming more of a problem. People are being targeted with ads incessantly, they are having their identities stolen, and they are being used at the heart of spoofs and scams.
Further, it matters that data can be purchased very cheaply. Many people don’t realize that their data is already being bought and sold. Even more than that, it’s also being constantly created.
As people browse the internet, their data is collected. Unless you have privacy systems such as a VPN, people are collecting your browsing habits. And your browsing habits can say a lot about you, including your hobbies, your income, your level of education, and much more.
This intent data is collected by businesses and researchers interested in learning more. Sometimes it’s used to determine broader trends, but other times it’s used specifically to target you for advertising. Consumers should always be aware that if they’re using a platform that doesn’t charge them to use it, that platform is making money some other way. That other way is almost invariably advertising.
Of course, some people don’t mind that their personal data is being mined. If you’re protecting yourself from identity theft, it may not be as big of an issue. But you should still be aware of when, how, and why your data is being used, so you can make an educated decision on whether you’re comfortable with that use.
How Can You Protect Your Personal Data?
You now know how much your personal data costs and why. So, you might be inclined to figure out how you can protect your personal data. Ideally, you want to keep your data privacy; you want to keep your data away from those who might misuse it.
The only way to do that is to change your browsing habits and to install the right tools and technology:
- Avoid posting your personal information on websites. If on social media, create fake social media accounts or use information sparingly on them.
- Use a VPN. A VPN is going to protect your internet traffic, stripping out identifiable information such as your computer’s IP or MAC address or location.
- Don’t accept cookies. Cookies are used to track you on the internet and is frequently used to track you from site to site rather than just internally within sites.
- Use incognito mode. Every browser today has a more secretive, incognito mode, which can make it easier to obscure your identity.
But most people are going to have their personal data somewhere, whether it’s on a social media site or whether it’s on their own doctor’s site. Protecting your personal information isn’t only your responsibility, but the responsibility of the companies that hold it. Make sure that you’re only giving your information to companies that you trust, and keep up-to-date on whether they’ve had their own system breaches or compromises. If you find that your personal data has been stolen, you should act swiftly.
Your personal information isn’t that expensive. But it’s still a huge industry. Your personal data is probably being bought and sold thousands of times a year because it’s being used for things like product development, advertising, and general research. And while it’s very hard for you to get paid personally for your data (no one is going to buy your data from you individually), it’s important that you know that your data is valuable and that you treat it as such.
Chakri is a go-to guy for your next smartphone recommendation. Back in his engineering days, he used to play with smartphones by installing custom ROMs and that passion got him into the tech industry. He still goes nuts about a smartphone knocking his door for review. Currently managing everything at Telecom Talk, Chakri is trying to master PUBG Mobile in his free time.
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