Which Companies Are Making The Most Money From Your Data?
Personal data is something we all have, whether were aware of it or not. But the trouble is, this personal data is something that is hotly sought after by almost every big company on the planet- making it something that isnt so private anymore.
While sometimes this is a voluntary act (for example, all those times youve blindly accepted a websites cookies after logging on) more often than not, when your data changes hands, it is entirely outside your control.
What is personal data?
Personal data is a broad category that can denote a large number of information types. Broadly speaking, personal data is any set of information which relates to you specifically. This can include things like your medical records, your spending habits, or even just the length of time you spend on certain websites.
Depending on the company that is handling your data at that time, the type of data will vary. Different corporations will have different interests in your habits and patterns. For example, a car insurance company will have little use for your clothes shopping habits, but will find use in observing the way you use your car: what time of day you tend to drive the most, what brand of car you drive the most, etc.
This data is all collected consensually, however, due to a lack of information, many users dont understand the extent of this data. The best example of this is online browsing- the majority accept cookies on almost every website visited without a solid understanding of what exactly is being agreed upon. These are just one example of the consent you might have (unknowingly) given to be tracked and monitored.
The truth is, huge corporations are buying and selling massive quantities of random public data at any given point behind closed doors- and it is entirely legal. There are a few things you can do to protect your data, however, and keep yourself safe from any unnecessarily prying eyes.
Why do companies want your personal data?
Companies often use data-driven business models- meaning that they will analyze large data sets (often drawn from customers and other members of the public) in order to identify patterns and trends. By using this concrete information, businesses can effectively formulate a strategy to meet popular demand or even fill any gaps in the market that have been located.
Sometimes, this data is gathered by the company itself by simply observing which of its goods and services sell when, how, and to whom. However, more often than not, companies acquire large quantities of data from data brokers who specialize in gathering and profiting off of your data.
Which companies are the biggest culprits?
While virtually every single company uses customer and consumer data in some way to shape their corporate decision making, some companies are more invasive with their practices than others. Somewhat unsurprisingly, studies have found that social media like Facebook and Instagram are at the top of the list when considering the sheer volume of data recorded, collecting an almost disturbing amount of varying data from each individual user. This data includes things like facial recognition, voice recognition, the environment around you, and even the photos in your camera roll.
While social media (such as Tinder, Grindr, and, unsurprisingly, TikTok) definitely dominate the hierarchy of data accumulation, they arent the ones who are necessarily profiting off of your personal information. While they might hold onto this data and occasionally utilize it for the aid of their own causes or subsidiaries (see: Facebook and Instagram shared information pool) theyre unlikely to dedicate a lot of time towards selling your data as a product in itself.
After all, social media networks have their hands full carrying out their own service- one that is largely separate from the industry of data brokering.
The companies who dedicate the largest majority of their workforce towards brokering with your personal data (and the personal data of innumerable other members of the public) are more likely than not, names youre not familiar with.
This is because data brokering companies tend to exclusively deal with the big names that were familiar with as part of our everyday lives (Uber, etc.)- not us, as consumers, directly. Therefore, they have no need to market towards our market. So its not surprising weve never heard of them- they havent made any effort to make themselves known to us.
The worlds leading data brokering company is Acxiom, a company which bolsters the data of 500 million people on record, from countries all over the world.
But the question is: how profitable is this? The answer might surprise you. Acxiom has earned a reported $1.03 billion last year alone, with growth expected to only continue further as the world continues to digitize itself with increasing momentum. Here are some of the companies that make the most money from your online data:
What can you do to protect your personal data?
If you want to protect your personal data from being exchanged without your consent, there are a few preventative measures you can take. For instance, carefully consider what exactly youre agreeing to at any given time whilst accessing a new website- often, sites that collect your data (which is, in fact, most websites) will frame the question of consent as one with only one clear answer- and that is, to consent to any and all tracking measures the site host chooses.
In addition to this, keep all of your passwords in a secure and encrypted place where hackers will have difficulty accessing. Consider investing in a high-quality VPN- a service which will allow you to mask your exact location and device.
Our personal data is something that exchanges a lot of hands, often without our knowledge. Large companies can profit off of these trades- often to dizzying degrees, whilst the services we trust the most continually collect our information without our full awareness.
By taking a few small steps, you can help keep parts of your data private and better protect your online habits.