It’s begun to sink in: Every call, every click, every credit card swipe is costing consumers their privacy. It’s not just the NSA recording their every phone conversation that’s disturbing: It’s also the data that is being collected unwillingly (and, often, unknowingly) from consumers every minute of every day, all day long, most of it online.
Just consider the number 2,000: This is the average number of times a typical consumer is tracked every day online, according to the Wall Street Journal. In fact, the invasion numbers are staggering. What those numbers represent is a serious disintegration of one’s privacy in all things, both big and small.
Social media as an information funnel
Social media alone is notorious for acting as a sieve through which consumer habits are tracked relentlessly, all in an effort to sell consumers yet more goods. Specifically targeted, of course. In fact, a monetary price has actually been assigned to the value of such data collection: An active female Facebook user, for example, is worth $27.61 per year (men are worth $22.09) in data tracking.
Think that you have secrets or at least some shred of privacy? The leading data broker, Acxiom Corporation, which has some 700 million individuals in its database, can measure nearly 3,000 shopping tendencies in every US household.
Awareness and fighting back
While the revelations about NSA mega-data collection may have come as a surprise, most Americans are well aware of the invasive techniques of online marketers. In fact, according to Pew Research, the number of consumers worried about the sharing of personal data has increased from 33 percent in 2009 to at least 50 percent today. Most consumers, while not ready to go off-the-grid just yet, are looking for a little more balance in their lives.
As a result, many are fighting back in small ways, either by seeking to block information from data collectors or at least, by downloading software that allows them to see just who is following and what sort of data they’re after. In fact, a significant percentage of the population is taking at least one or more steps to cover their digital footsteps in some way.
Tools to regain privacy
Among the most popular of Internet tools in this category are clearing cookies and taking advantage of ad-blockers. Not only does this prevent the marketing messages from getting through, it also prevents marketers from collecting data too. More than one-quarter of Internet users in the United States say they have used this technique.
Other popular means of shielding data include using search engines that don’t track queries (goodbye, Google) or employing smartphone encryption services to prevent messages from being co-opted. Free toolbar settings for Chrome and Firefox allow consumers to see which companies have their credit cards or phone numbers. All are ways that anyone can regain a bit of privacy and some peace of mind.
In the end, it’s a question of trade-offs: convenience vs. privacy, connecting with old friends vs. maintaining a low profile. What’s certain is that the proliferation of companies and software programs addressing privacy concerns are growing by the day to meet consumer demand, yet another online market being satisfied by marketers.