If you use the internet, there is a good chance companies are selling your data to a third party.
Oftentimes, the data is used to try to sell you products you might be interested in. Websites will collect info on which websites you visit or the items you buy online.
They'll also collect information such as your age, gender and location, according to public interest advocacy group U.S. PIRG.
They then can package all of this information to give to advertisers to target advertisements.
“Advertisers can buy your credit card transaction data and see if you're a frequent shopper at, say, liquor stores or fast food restaurants, and they can also see if you stop,” said R.J. Cross, director of the Don't Sell My Data Campaign for U.S. PIRG. “And there is a huge market for data about relapse — shoppers who advertisers view as easy targets to get you to come back and spend more money, and they will target you for ads with beer, booze and Big Macs without any regard for what your goals are. Maybe you don't want to. Maybe you want to cut back on those things for really good reasons.”
Although legitimate companies will buy data for advertising purposes, sometimes the data could be used for scams.
In other instances, U.S. PIRG said the information can be used to take advantage of people's private insecurities and weaknesses. One example U.S. PIRG gives is of diet pill companies targeting users struggling with eating disorders.
“I really hate having to tell people to go look at privacy policies, but right now, it's the best place where we can find key information like what companies are getting a hold of our data, and what exactly are they doing with it,” Cross said.
Cross recommends you read websites’ privacy policies. There, you can learn what companies do with their data.
U.S. PIRG also recommends not clicking “accept all” when cookie settings pop up.