Privacy for Sale: Protecting Your Personal Data Online - NBC Connecticut
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Privacy for Sale: Protecting Your Personal Data Online

In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission found that data collection companies were collecting and storing "a vast amount of data on almost every U.S. household and commercial transaction," and that collection continues today.

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    Privacy For Sale: Protecting Your Personal Data Online

    In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission found that data collection companies were collecting and storing "a vast amount of data on almost every U.S. household and commercial transaction," and that collection continues today.

    (Published Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019)

    With every click of the computer mouse, you share detailed data about who you are and that digital information can be very valuable. Much of what you do online is not done in private, even if you think it is.

    Technology experts have highlighted the important distinction between your privacy and your data. Privacy relates to things like your name, your social security number, your online user names and passwords. But your data is more like a "profile" of who you are; an abstract model of you. That data is in high demand.

    "It's valuable so they can target us for advertisements," said Frederick Scholl, the Cybersecurity Program director at Quinnipiac University's School of Engineering. Scholl said your data - that detailed portrait of what you click, what you buy, what you search for online, even what you watch on your smart TV - is being collected to then be used by companies to advertise to a specific group of potential customers - who are a lot like you.

    "It's worth a lot because it helps with targeted marketing," said Scholl. Your data combined with that of everyone else has monetary value, he adds.

    In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission found that data collection companies were collecting and storing "a vast amount of data on almost every U.S. household and commercial transaction." That collection continues today, and experts warn that it can often be done without the consumers' knowledge or our consent.

    "Our information isn't just out there, it's being traded actively," said Connecticut Attorney General William Tong. Tong, a Democrat, said his office is coordinating with the offices of other state attorneys general to try to require tech companies, including Facebook, to fully disclose to consumers what information is collected and who has access to it.

    "Connecticut is closely working with our partners in other states to make sure that we bring those protections here," Tong said.

    "We want them to do everything they can to protect the integrity and the confidentiality of our personal data, and we expect them to and we're going to hold them accountable," said Tong. Tong said he had also been in contact with Facebook in recent days.

    "We don't sell your data and we don't tell advertisers who you are," said Facebook in a statement to NBC Connecticut Investigates. The company also said it is working to prevent misuse of its ad platforms. Facebook also said it had tripled the number of employees working on safety and security.

    "That's the tradeoff - is that you kind of become a product in an of yourself," said Lon Seidman, a technology expert and tech product reviewer on YouTube. Seidman said any company that collects consumer data needs to protect it from a breach or hack or even if a company changes hands.

    "This data is bought and sold as a commodity and there's very little control over how it is held and protected and moved around," said Seidman.

    Experts recommend conducting a review every few months of every website you visit or app you use, making sure the username and password combination used is different for each site. If someone is able to obtain that combination, it is possible they would have enough information to then begin peeling away the layers of your privacy.

    Also, it is recommended that consumers take advantage of the Privacy Checkup that Facebook and other companies offer to figure out what information you have granted access to and which apps you have authorized.

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