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Tips for Protecting Your Personal Information From Data Miners

Advice from the CEO of a company that helps you do just that

The other day when my trusted milk frother stopped working, I went online to do a little research to buy a new one. As if by magic, the next few days my social media showed me a variety of ads for—you guessed it—milk frothers.

Most of us have had this experience. We log onto social media only to be bombarded by ads for the exact product that you were just searching for online? 

Some big tech companies have been mining our personal information, spending habits and internet searches and selling them off to advertisers for years. So, is there a way to prevent these data miners from taking our information? 

UShare, a company that enables users to control, trace, and claim ownership of every piece of content they share via social media says there are ways we can keep our personal information from being sold. I connected with Ushare’s founder and CEO Daniele Marinelli to find out what consumers can do to keep our personal information safe while still enjoying everything that the internet has to offer.

What can people do to avoid sharing their personal information but still look on sites that have “accept cookies” pop ups?

Daniele Marinelli: On your computer, open Chrome. At the top right, click “Settings.” Under "Privacy and security," click “Site settings.” Click “Cookies.” From here, you can turn on or turn off cookies. To turn on: Next to "Blocked," turn on the switch. To turn off: Turn off “Allow sites to save and read cookie data.”

Does adjusting your social media privacy settings make a difference?

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Changing settings helps in a minimal way, but companies are still going to receive, collect and sell most of the information. However, this depends from platform to platform and from company to company.

How is our information gathered?

Businesses may gather information about their customers in a number of ways. Consumers who engage in loyalty programs, fill out surveys, respond to emails and enter sweepstakes provide a lot of the details. The information collected includes everything from what you purchase to whether or not you use coupons. Your name, address, profession, the number of people in your household, and how much money you make are all examples of personal information they obtain. Companies may obtain your personal information if you engage in savings schemes or use the internet.

What can we do to keep our personal information from being sold?

There are many things that we can do, for example: We can opt out of data broker lists— the biggest marketing data companies give users the ability to place their names on “suppression lists” designed to stop their data from being shared. We can skip surveys, because every time that we are filling out surveys to get a reward or a chance for a prize, we are giving information to companies that they can sell for a profit. The best way to keep our information from being sold is to use platforms and buy companies' products and services that do not collect your personal information— if we stopped doing it, companies will have no information to sell.

Why is it that when we look at something to purchase (say a bike, or taking a trip), ads for those exact things and their competitor sites pop up?

This is something called “remarketing.” It works like this: Let’s say that you visit a website that offers a product or a service. This website may or may not have ads, but they do have content from an advertising network. The advertising network installs a cookie on your computer, and the cookie will contain the information about the pages that you visited and the products that you looked at the most. To make it simple, let's say that it will contain, “This computer was looking at X” where “X” is a product or a service offered by the website that you are visiting. When you move to another website that shows ads and uses the same advertising network, that advertising network is given its own cookie back— the one that says, “This computer was looking at X”— and as a result, elects to show you ads for “X.”

Jeanette Pavini is an Emmy Award winning journalist specializing in consumer news and protection. She is the author of “The Joy of $aving: Money Lessons I Learned From My Italian-American Father & 20 Years as a Consumer Reporter.” Jeanette is a regular contributor to TheStreet. Her work includes reporting for CBS, MarketWatch, WSJ Sunday, and USA Today. Jeanette has contributed to “The Today Show” and a variety of other media outlets. You can follow her money-saving tips on Facebook: Jeanette Pavini: The Joy of $aving Community. Find links to her social media and her book at JeanettePavini.com.