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If you’ve read any sort of tech news lately, you’d know data privacy is at the forefront of the conversation. Data privacy, however, is not a new thing. Our devices, websites, and mobile devices have been using our data for many years. If you’ve ever received a credit card fraud warning based on an “uncharacteristic purchase,” then you’ve witnessed data tracking at work. Access to data is a controversial topic. Some believe our devices should have zero access to our data while others have no issue with it. The bottom line is that knowledge on the topic is necessary for you to make your own decision about your data.

How Do Websites Track Data?

The primary way websites track data is through what are called “cookies”. Cookies are small text files that attach themselves to your browser. These little files contain a lot of useful information. They can hold your username, password, email address, and other data that could be beneficial for potential advertisements. These cookies help adapt advertisements to be tailored to you and your spending habits. Every time you visit a new website, cookies are recorded and more data is added to the file system. 

How Is This Data Used?

As aforementioned, websites have been tracking our data for many years. The most popular example of how your data is online advertisements. If you’ve ever been browsing a specific item and notice that its advertisement pops up on every other page, then you’ve seen data tracking in action. Often our data is used for companies to gather information about our behaviors. They can then use that information to modify their ads to match our preferences. Data tracking has been used for our safety as well. Your credit card company keeps track of all of your purchases and finds patterns within the stores you shop at, the location of said stores, and the average amount of your usual purchases. This is to spot an uncharacteristic charge that may indicate someone has stolen your information. 

Is It Good or Bad?

The question that many people ask themselves is if data tracking is good or bad. The answer is, it depends. Data tracking can help improve your user experience in ways you might miss. Everything that your computer can autofill is because of data tracking. Your bank’s fraud alert system, your targeted ads, your Google Maps saved locations, are all products of your data being collected. To many, these are aspects that they would prefer to keep. But what are the downsides? Like all things stored online, collected data is vulnerable to hacking. The main concern with data tracking is what would happen in the event of a data breach. And well, a lot of bad things could potentially happen. If your private information is leaked, you could have a bit of a problem on your hands. For many, this is a risk they are not willing to take.

How To Protect Your Data

As data privacy continues to be a common topic of conversation, as users, we are starting to gain much more control over which information we choose to share and which want to keep private. If you’ve opened a mobile application recently, you may have seen the prompt that asks if you would prefer that your data is not tracked. This shift in control helps people feel more in control of their privacy. Additionally, there are other methods that we can use to protect our data. When it comes to saving information for autofill forms, avoid saving bank or credit card user names, passwords, card numbers, CVVs, etc. This goes for mobile applications like Venmo and Cashapp as well. When you’re deciding which information you want to save, you must understand that anything you give the site access to, they will store. 

The Bottom Line

The best thing you can do as a device user is be knowledgeable about how your data is stored and used. When you understand how websites and applications track data, you control what you wish to keep private and what you want to give access to. Data tracking helps improve the user experience in many ways, but it does have its downsides. Ultimately the decision of what happens to your data is up to you.

Joe Carter

In retirement, Joe has found a passion for all things tech and data. He particularly likes writing about tech and data topics that are relevant to the present day. When he’s not writing, he likes to fish at the creek near his house or go for walks with his dog, Curry.

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