Who Has Your Personal Data?

Who Has Your Personal Data?

Did you ever sign-up with an online service and start getting cold calls relating to that service but from another provider? Companies are trading or selling user data, and this practice is becoming irritating and, in some cases, concerning. This is why it’s essential to know who has your data and how to regain control over it.

Online companies with which you have an account and whose services you use have your personal data. Most companies will collect data on you directly or indirectly while you are using their services. Online data brokers also collect your data by aggregating publicly available information on you.

This article gives a detailed overview of which companies have your data, what type of data, and how to tell the companies to delete that data. 

How To Find Out Which Companies Have My Data?

How To Find Out Which Companies Have My Data?
Young stressed woman sitting at a computer desk and talking on a smartphone in her office, trying to find out which companies have her personal data?

All of the top technology companies keep a record of your personal data. Search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo keep your private data information. Social Media companies are famous for holding and using your data. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube, WeChat, Tik Tok, and Twitter. The list is endless.

The easiest way to find out which companies have your personal data or to stop them from getting it is to use an App or a browser extension. You can also scan your emails and messages to check who has gotten in touch with you. All of those companies or individuals have your data. 

Also, if you use any third-party apps inside social media, they too can collect, store, and distribute your data. Now, searching through your emails, checking every single message, and scanning all social media networks for the third-party apps you’ve used is challenging and time-consuming. 

The most practical way to get an idea of who has your data is by using an application or “App” that quantifies your information.  We discuss Data Privacy in our article “Smartphone AI: Who Has Your Facial Recognition and Fingerprint Scans?”

Data Assistant Applications

For example, Mine Smart Data Assistant or Rita’s Mobile App are fantastic applications that help you discover and manage your online data. They show you most if not all, the companies that have data on you. 

You’ll get a full breakdown of the following:

  • How often do you use the company’s services?
  • What type of data do you share with them.
  • The overall risk of data exposure. 

They also allow you to reclaim the data, which will remove your data from those companies’ servers – provided they comply with your erasure request.

Here’s a 4-min YouTube video explaining Mine, giving details and explaining how 550 companies, on average, in the U.S. are holding your sensitive privacy data:

Mine CEO Gal Ringel interview.

Also, if you’re looking for written instructions, here’s a step-by-step guide on using SayMine to discover who has your data. 

  1. Go to saymineap.com.
  2. Sign up with your email address. Currently, it only supports Gmail, Microsoft, and Yahoo email addresses.
  3. Wait for a couple of seconds, maybe a minute, as SayMine scans through all the email titles in the email addresses. It will then compile a list of all known data collecting companies with your email and, thereby, your data.
  4. Once the list is ready, you’ll get welcomed into the SayMine Dashboard.
  5. Here you can see the total number of companies that hold your data. If you click the “See which companies” button, you’ll get a detailed look at all the company names.

Disclaimer: “When you register to use our Service, you will allow us to scan your email inbox to enable us to assist you in finding the companies that might have your information and help you exercise your privacy rights, as further explained in Section 5 below. For the avoidance of doubt, it should be clarified that under no circumstances Mine will read your emails’ content.”

Mine Terms of Service

That said, Mines FAQ page claims that they don’t “collect or read” your email contents; they just scan the title.

How To Know Who’s Tracking Me and Collecting My Data?

How To Know Who's Tracking Me and Collecting My Data?
How To Know Who’s Tracking Me and Collecting My Data?

To know who’s tracking you and collecting your data, you can use apps or browser extensions that show you the websites following you. Some of these extensions also help you stop trackers from collecting your data. Examples include Disconnect, CoverYourTracks, and Thunderbeam-Lightbeam for Chrome

Let’s quickly go over each of these options.

Disconnect

Disconnect is a browser extension that visually shows which websites are tracking you and allows you to block the trackers. It’s also super easy to use.

Install the extension on your browser, visit any website you want, and click on the extension. It will give a detailed breakdown of all the trackers analyzing your browser session. From here, you can choose to stop all trackers or keep some harmless ones (related to work or business) active.

CoverYourTracks

CoverYourTracks is an online tool that lets you test your browser’s safety from online tracking and digital fingerprinting

The app won’t give you an option to stop the trackers, but it will give you an idea of how many trackers are lurking through your browser sessions so you can increase your online security and better protect yourself.

To use the CoverYourTracks app, simply visit the website and press the “test your browser” button. You will then get a summary report of your overall tracking protection. The report includes information on how visible you are to trackers. They have an index and glossary of all the metrics they measure.

Thunderbeam-Lightbeam for Chrome

Thunderbeam-Lightbeam is an excellent extension for Google Chrome and Chrome-based browsers. It’ll give you a graphical view of all the trackers monitoring your browser sessions and how each tracker is related to one another.

All you need to do is install the extension on your browser and click on it. This extension will open an empty graph. The graph will populate with new trackers each time you visit a website. Also, if two or more trackers are interlinked between websites, it’ll show the association using a line.

Disclaimer: “This extension is developed as part of a large study of web tracking. We wish to collect your data anonymously to help understand tracking around the world. If you agree, please press OK below. If you press NO, then your data will NOT be collected, but you will still be able to use our extension. You can change your mind at any time by simply changing the auto data collect setting on the left.”

Thunderbeam-Lightbeam for Chrome

What Type of Data do Online Companies Collect?

What Type of Data do Online Companies Collect?
Women entering her personal information into an online program on her laptop and never realize it is being collected and sold to other companies.

We discuss more online data privacy with Google in our two articles, “Is Google News The Same For Everyone?” and “Is Google Personalized News Using AI To Create Bias?”

Online, companies collect user’s personal information, unique identifiers, activities performed, location data, and publicly accessible information. That said, some companies tend to collect more data than others.

First, a on·line company will have access to some of your personal information when you sign-up to use their service. They can collect all or some of these data:

  • Name
  • Phone number
  • Address
  • Social security number
  • Driver’s license
  • Email address
  • Any Uploaded Documents

Then, as you use their services, they can trace your activities and figure out unique identifiers to gain more insight about you. Some of these data include:

  • IP address
  • Browser type 
  • Device type
  • Operating system
  • Messages
  • People you communicate with
  • Crash reports
  • Preferred kind or category of content consumption

If you provide the company with your location detail, they can also access and collect the following data:

  • Time zone
  • GPS coordinates
  • Information on nearby devices

And finally, by leveraging the personal information you provided, a company can also collect publicly accessible data like:

  • Information on you published in local newspapers
  • Data on you available with third-party marketing partners
  • Credit history from credit bureaus

Usually, the type of user data a company collects and what they do with it is explicitly mentioned in its terms and conditions. 

Here’s a concise post on how much data big tech companies have on you. The article has also graded the companies by how little they collect user data. Spoiler alert – Google gets an F for collecting all sorts of data on you.

How To Tell Companies To Delete My Data?

How To Tell Companies To Delete My Data
How To Tell Companies To Delete My Data

To tell companies to delete your data, you can directly email them using your registered email address. Based on where you live and the local data protection laws, some companies will delete your data. But the process is highly cumbersome and will require much time and effort.

It’s essential to keep in mind that most companies that collect your data make money off of your data. As such, they will not delete or remove it easily. 

You also need to factor in that some companies tie in your data with the service they provide. This makes deleting your data impossible if you plan to keep using their services.

Local government laws play a factor as well. If there are no strong data protection and privacy laws within your country, the company might not choose to delete your data as they’re not legally obligated to do so. Here is an article by Mike Tierney that is being updated and describes Data Privacy Laws by State in the US.

Now, putting all these caveats aside, the Mine app makes it convenient to delete or “reclaim” your data. After using it to find which companies have your data, you can use the “reclaim” option, which will send an automatic request to the companies asking them to delete your data.

Conclusion

Companies you have signed up with to use their services have access to data you willingly provided during the sign-up process. Besides this, companies can also track your activities to generate and store data about your usage pattern. Also, some of your information is publicly available, and any company or individual can access it. 

You have the ability to remove your personal data information from many of these companies by yourself or with the help of an app such as the Mine App, as described above.

References:

John Mortensen

I am a project manager, tech writer, and science enthusiast who loves to study the latest technology, such as AI, comedy, quantum computers, smartphones, headphones, and software.

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