It is no secret that Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others are targeting your personal data. They use complex methods to gather, store, and reuse information that is important to you.
They look at the things you post, the things you search for, the websites you visit, the things you like, and then adjust the ads you see. Cookies stored on your computer or device keep track of websites you've visited, especially the sites you frequent most.
Many times, we seem surprised by how much these companies know about us. But in reality, most people upload photos, make comments, "friend" others and "like" things without a second thought.
I Just Ate a Cheeseburger
It used to be cool to post a picture of what you were eating on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Announcing your preference for cheeseburgers, ice cream, prescription meds, clothes, shoes and beverages will help create a pattern of likes, dislikes and consumption. Over time, your buying habits can be pegged for marketing purposes.
As mega companies continue to buy web properties and social networks, your likes, dislikes and consumption patterns divulged on Facebook, for example, can be used by Instagram or your Google website history can be relayed to YouTube.
You Lead Me On
Pinterest has a feature called "Guided Search." The goal is to guide your searches of open questions to picture boards that will best answer your questions. For example, if you want to know of some "good summer vacation spots" -- you are led to picture boards of favorite vacation spots. Next thing you know, the ads you begin to see while browsing the web are for cruise lines and vacation packages.
While this is normal activity for most websites, it's amazing how much can be determined about you by your online activity. And, it will only get better (or worse, if you are considering privacy).
Over time, it can be determined by our online activity when you are most likely to post something, when you are online, and for how long. It's easy to determine what you do for fun, your political stance, and your religious preference. Even more simple is to determine your family members and best friends.
One other area of concern is the use of some really "private" content.
Facebook recently bought WhatsApp, a messaging app with a half-billion users, and an app called Moves, which tracks your exercise and fitness, your overall health, and the places you visit.
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, recently said that private content can be used to build a more compelling experience for each user. This also means that this "private" content gathered by apps such as WhatsApp, Moves, SnapChat, etc. could be used by Facebook or others for marketing purposes.
Nowhere to Hide
If you're a regular Internet browser or social media consumer, it is going to be impossible to hide.
I don't consider myself a conspiracy theorist. But, the best advice I have is to be careful about the things you post and "like" on social media. Be sure to clean up your past "likes" and posts, even deleting comments, photos and history, if they are not important. You should also consider disabling the cookies tracked by your web browser.
And more importantly, don't post anything online that you wouldn't want your mother or the police knowing.
Note: This article and the opinions expressed here are from Russ Warner, Internet safety expert and CEO of ContentWatch, makers of parental control software that can block Facebook, Net Nanny.
Follow Russ Warner on Google+.