Companies are learning more and more about us through the data they collect from our online activity. Stuff like what we’re buying online, the pages we like or follow on social media, the media channels we use and the personal information we include on our social profiles — there’s a lot of data to collect!
Sometimes advertisers use this data to target us, for example, you’ve been shopping online and suddenly the exact item you were looking at appears on your Facebook. Or you regularly watch AFL online then Google reminds you that your favourite team has a game starting soon. This might be convenient at times, but it can also be a bit creepy.
According to statistics from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner 79% of us don’t want our data shared with other organisations. If you’re like me, and prefer that companies not know absolutely everything about you, here are some ways you can protect your information, and limit the amount of tracking by advertisers:
1. Delete cookies
Deleting your cookies (not the edible kind), is a good first step in limiting companies’ tracking capabilities. Although there are other ways they can track you online, this will reduce some access. You can manage your cookies by going to your browser settings — check out this helpful how-to guide for specific browsers.
2. Log out of social media sites
Try logging out of your social media sites before you start browsing other sites. That means actually signing out, not just closing the tab. Cookies can’t persist when you have logged out, but they are allowed to be used when you’re still logged in. This can help to limit the amount of information any one website can collect about your online activity.
3. Avoid using single sign-on (SSO)
SSO is when you sign into an app or online account using a social media account you already have, instead of creating a new account. Using SSO often means you agree that this new account can access all of the information you share on social media. If you can avoid using your social media accounts to sign into other apps or accounts you will reduce the information companies have access to.
4. Change your smartphone settings
Smartphones work differently to computers which makes it a little easier to limit the information you share. On an iPhone you can go to Settings >> Privacy and scroll down to Advertising. Turn the ‘Limit ad tracking’ to ‘On’. For an Android phone, go to the Google settings app and tap the ads link and select ‘Opt out of interest-based ads’. Although this may not limit the amount of ads you see, it will make them less targeted.
5. Limit the amount of personal information you give
Offer the least amount of personal information possible when signing up for things or registering an account—if the information is mandatory, usually the category will display an asterisk. The categories without the asterisk you can leave blank.
6. Do a digital check-up
Popular sites and apps like Facebook and Google offer privacy controls. So let’s make sure we use them. Every once in a while, check your settings and see if you’re okay with how your data is being used or how much information you’re sharing with potential advertisers. If you’re not okay with your current settings, change it up!
While these steps won’t stop advertisements from appearing in your newsfeed or on websites altogether, they’re a good start to protecting your privacy and limiting the amount of information you provide to online advertisers.
Silje Andersen-Cooke is the Youth Advisor of the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner
Image by: Andrew Loke