Companies know your home address, your name and date of birth, childrens names, parents names, pets, cars you drive, devices you own, credit card information, bank statements, your annual income, and so much more. Sometimes, you even provide it readily without thinking. Amazon Alexa and Google Home have made getting this information easier than ever. Back in the Cold War era, the general public had become very concerned with government wiretaps on phones and now the worry comes when people conveniently ask their wiretap for cake recipes or the weather outside. The scary part? It’s all legal.
When you buy a smart device or use a service online, it comes with a “Terms and Conditions” which you have to agree to in order to use. These terms and conditions come with several pages of legal information, some of it concerning data they collect from you. If you accept those terms, you’ve consented to having that company use your information and sell it for advertising whether or not you actually read the terms. Those advertising companies build a profile around you, getting to know your age, sex, likes and dislikes, buying habits, hobbies, and personal information like your home address, your name and credit card information get sent to these companies looking to make money off of you.
How do they get that much information from you? Simple: by pairing together their own profile of you from what they purchase from other companies. Google, Amazon, Verizon, Facebook and Snap Inc. all sell your pictures and private information to advertisers whenever you post, search or even ask a smart home device a question. From these companies comes smaller subsidiaries such as YouTube (Google), Twitch (Amazon), Tumblr (Verizon), Instagram (Facebook) and Snapchat (Snap Inc.). According to two anonymous sources, they asked their Amazon Alexa basic things throughout the day and got very personalised ads and search queries throughout the day. One source explained that, “I’ve gotten more ads for things I wanted than actually needed, but those wants made me look closer at whatever product they were selling me.”
According to the GAO, your information doesn’t just go to advertisers, or go directly to advertisers either. Information resellers package their data to advertisers, reference searches, business searches, and credit report companies. Chances are if you search your name, you’ll find several photos, where you live and possibly even family ties. There are different ways to combat information being leaked to advertisers and companies, such as using the DuckDuckGo search engine, which does not track data. There are other, more encrypted methods of hiding personal information such as the Tor Browser, but these methods are mostly for secrecy online than the usual user.
The Internet isn’t the only way companies get your information however, and just logging on or getting a service provider is enough to get custom junk mail to your door today. Until a law or policy is made about information gathering on and offline, companies will continue to use you to their benefits.