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With more companies collecting consumers' online data, here's how to better protect your information

Posted at 5:13 PM, Feb 06, 2024

DENVER — Every time you go online to read an article or shop or catch up on the latest social media trends, your data is being collected.

That data includes your name, email, age, likes and dislikes, browsing history, IP address, location and more. All of this information creating a digital picture of you so that companies can better advertise to you.

“The more that our data is collected and the more that it's sold, the more likely that there'll be some sort of hack and that information will get out there and we can be exposed to identity theft or other problems,” said Danny Katz, the executive director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group.

So, his organization recently released a score card grading states on their privacy laws.

No state received an "A" and six failed altogether: Texas, Indiana, Virginia, Utah, Tennessee and Iowa.

“There should be an expectation among consumers that any data that's collected from us, it's the information that entity needs to provide that service or good and not information that's unnecessary,” Katz said.

PIRG is now calling on lawmakers to pass bills that better protect consumers on two fronts. First, they want websites to get your permission before collecting data.

“Right now too often they don't even have to get permission or if they do they can start collecting information simply by telling you that they're collecting that information,” Katz said.

The second goal: make it easier for consumers to delete information about them that's already out there.

“There are hundreds of entities that are data collection entities, and it's really labor intensive to go to each one of those and tell them to delete your data,” Katz said.

So, they want a one-stop-shop that consumers can go to have their data removed from these data brokers more easily.

While consumer groups push for more laws to protect online data, there are some things you can do to make sure only the information you want out there is out there. Don't skip the cookie question.

“When something pops up and says manage cookies or accept cookies or reject cookies I mean we recommend if you want to minimize the amount of data that is being collected about you and from you that you should be rejecting those cookies,” Katz said.

 If the website doesn't let you reject all, only accept the mandatory ones for functionality.

How to set up default privacy settings on your iPhone

To set up default privacy controls on your iPhone, in setting go to your Privacy section. Click on Tracking then turn off "allow apps to request to track.”

Then go back out to Privacy again then click on photos and choose which websites you want to have access to your library. Also, in privacy select microphone and do the same thing.

How to set up default privacy settings on your Android

For android users, first remove some permissions for unused apps. To do that, go to apps, pick the one you want to change and then under unused app settings click "Pause app activity.”

To turn off that microphone and camera access for apps, go into the Security and Privacy settings then to privacy and then to privacy controls. Then turn off camera and microphone access.

You can also check out all the permissions you've granted for various Apps in your Apps Permissions section.

Other ways to protect your data

Using a more secure internet browser will minimize the amount of data that is collected by companies.

PIRG says browsers like Mozilla's Firefox, Brave or DuckDuckGo collect less data than Apple Safari or Google Chrome.

Other simple things you can do: delete your browser history, consider installing an ad blocker, opt out of personalized ads.

“You can also put in requests to delete information from some of those data warehouses that have cropped up. There are hundreds of them, so that can be labor intensive, but there are some ways that you can go about doing that. And we recommend doing that as well,” Katz said.

Finally, Consumer Reports has an app that's called Permission Slip. It shows you what data is being collected on you.

It can help you file a request to tell these companies to stop selling your information and works with them to delete your accounts and data and it keeps doing this regularly on your behalf.