The war for everyone’s data is a real thing. It’s more precious than anything we know so far. And why it wouldn’t be when it is used as a fuel to power the enormous machinery ever known to man – advertising. The good news is that not just anyone can tap into your data and see what you search online.
Unfortunately, some third parties out there are after your data.
Do you want to learn who can see what you search for online? Let’s shine some light on third parties that stop at nothing to violate your online privacy and is there a way to protect your data and identity.
Governments have specific mechanisms in place to help protect the public better. In the past, governments worldwide were more reactive when addressing particular threats. In the last decade, a lot has been done to pass legislation enabling governments to become proactive.
Governments started tracking, collecting, and recording our private data to efficiently comb through relevant data and discover threats before they develop into disasters.
They don’t only access search data to prevent crime but also identify culprits behind some misdeeds, block sites that violate laws and regulations and enforce censorship. To achieve all these goals, governments can find out what you search online. Their policies are not transparent, and we can’t precisely estimate the extent of their operations.
Search engines have become powerful platforms. People no longer open their browsers and type in the website’s address they want to visit. Instead, their online journey starts with a search inquiry made through one of the search engines.
Most search engines collect search data to make your searches more relevant to you and deliver an exceptional user experience. If your search data ended up being used only in this scenario, it would be fine.
However, search engines collect your entire search data and every link you click on in the search results and give it to the highest bidder. Advertisers need to show their ads to prospective consumers, and search data can help them pinpoint precisely who they want to display ads. If you wish to evade this, you can try using tools like DuckDuckGo, which do not store your search history.
Internet service providers
Your internet service providers, or ISP, don’t just provide you with access to the internet. They have complete control of your internet connection and insight into everything you do online. The amount of information they have access to does appear creepy:
- Your exact location.
- All content you access online.
- Which devices you are using (including routers in your home).
- The websites you visit and how much time you spend on them.
- Search history.
In many cases, they must monitor your searches and online behavior to comply with copyright laws. Since ISPs can see what you do online and possibly share/sell this information, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see many people using Virtual Private Networks.
With a VPN on, the ISPs can no longer know what you do online. It is because a VPN download gives you access to servers that you can connect to. Then, traffic gets encrypted and rerouted through them. A VPN tunnel prevents anyone, including your ISP, from seeing your data.
Websites and applications
Websites and applications can see what you are searching online too. Websites do these with cookies. A cookie is a small block of data containing anything ranging from your username and password to which site you come from and prior purchases.
Applications, on the other hand, use permissions. With the proper permissions, apps can collect all sorts of user data, including online behavior and search history.
You must pay close attention to the sites you’re visiting and your apps. Disabling the cookies and not giving ridiculous permissions can help protect your online privacy and identity.
The most malicious hackers can access your private data, including search history and credit card information. They have numerous ways to do so. For instance, they can install malware on your devices, giving them complete access to your data.
People who use public Wi-Fi networks are also exposed to this risk. Hackers can easily break into their connection, capture the data traffic, and gain access to data.
Users who don’t regularly update their operating systems and apps enable hackers to exploit vulnerabilities to gain access to data. With your data in their hands, hackers have various options, such as selling it through black marketplaces, stealing your identity, and committing payment card fraud.
Given the number of instances in which your search data is exposed, you should be concerned about your online privacy. Adopting some practices, such as using safe browsers such as Tor and services such as VPN and proxy, can help you protect your data in the long run.
Article contributed by Caroline Jones, an enthusiastic writer, gamer, and foodie, interested in helping people and becoming a veteran in all things technical.
Cybersecurity is her passion, and the fight for digital privacy is one of her favorite subjects to dig deeper on a regular basis.