Like every person, you change over time. 

What worked a couple years ago doesn’t work today. Think about the fact that 7 or 8 years ago, many of us relied on Netflix to mail out new DVDs. 

(Yeah, the infamous red DVD envelopes that shipped direct is apparently now a dwindling service.)

Needless to say, cloud-based streaming services like Netflix, Roku, Disney+, Hulu, and other platforms weren’t always tracking user engagement via how often we click, pause, rewind, or skip.  

It goes without saying that in the next 7-8 years, your online privacy expectations will continue to change as well. Knowing more about how your personal data is tracked today can help you to make smarter long-term decisions.

Data Privacy: Advocacy & Regulations

Indeed, the discussion around data privacy — both knowing what companies track and controlling your digital footprint — is now part of the public consciousness. 

This year, we should raise the bar for companies to protect personal data. After all, companies tend to focus on compliance/risk avoidance — they’ll consider privacy a business imperative if YOU, the consumer, continue to self-advocate. 

Another reason this is important is that there’s still not a federal law protecting your data. One interesting development from the November 2020 election was that Californians overwhelmingly voted to expand the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). It’s now going to be known as the Consumer Privacy Rights Act (CCRA) and the state’s enhanced regulations are set to go into effect January 1, 2023. 

But that’s still a couple years away. And that’s only one U.S. state!

In 2021, we’ll likely see differing approaches by the remaining 49 states, with some states giving consumers specific rights such as opting out of the sale of their personal information. 

Privacy Policies: An Incomprehensible Disaster 

The internet’s original sin was allowing everyone to believe it was entirely free, according to thought leaders from Forbes Technology Council. They predict that more consumers will demand that businesses explain what data they need and why, ask for consent to use it, and allow consumers to change their minds. 

As online shopping continues to grow — studies estimate 300 million online shoppers in 2021 – it’s more important than ever to stay on top of privacy settings and demand more clarity.

Ask yourself why you’d be willing to share data — is it to receive exclusive discounts or to find products, for example? In exchange for handing over your data, would you know the answers to some of these important questions?

  • What, if any, control you have over data processing
  • What security measures the company takes to protect your information
  • What third parties have access to the information, and how they use it
  • Possible policy changes and how you’ll be notified if they occur

If you don’t know the answers, you’re not alone. The problem is that many still don’t understand what companies are collecting and sharing. Even a report from the New York Times, after analyzing 150 different privacy policies, declared that the majority “were an incomprehensible disaster.”

Data Tracking: Deciphering Words That Matter

Companies still have a long way to go with explaining their data privacy policies openly. 

It’s your right to demand more. A McKinsey 2020 consumer data report found that 87% of respondents would “not do business with a company if they had concerns about its security practices.” 

If you’re also concerned, take a minute to decipher some key privacy words that affect your digital identity:

KeywordWhat it probably means if you see it
Third PartiesYour data is going to be sold to other companies, probably a data broker. These companies collect online data and  sell it to pretty much anyone interested in learning more about customers, voters, students, and consumers … like you. It’s legal, but not always honest. 
ExceptWhatever the policy just said, doesn’t matter. It’s not uncommon for companies to say they won’t sell your data, “except under certain circumstances.” Those exceptions probably make all the difference.
Such AsThis sneaky term is used when companies want to give you a few examples, but not the complete picture. It might as well mean “whatever we want.” 
RetainThis tells you how long a company will keep your data. Companies should only keep your data for as long as you’re their customer. If longer, they’re mining your data. 
DeleteIf the company gives you options to delete your data, they’re showing some respect for you. If they don’t, they’re acting like they own your data, not you. 
DateCheck the date the policy was last updated. If it’s recent, the company is taking your privacy more seriously. If not, they might not deserve your trust. 
ControlThis might be the most important word to find because it indicates your options in determining how your data is treated. Many companies have privacy settings, but they aren’t always turned on by default. 

Source: MediaPRO, How to Decode Privacy Policies 

Final Thoughts: Mindful Sharing and Careful Choices 

Although some businesses see privacy as an ethical responsibility – not just a compliance requirement  – it’s still your responsibility to understand how your personal data is stored, analyzed, and sold. To use the front-door analogy at your home, you may choose to leave it unlocked overnight and nothing bad will happen. Just don’t act surprised if someone wanders in at 3am. 

That’s why we recommend Ghostery’s suite of privacy tools, especially our free browser extension to block ads, stop trackers, and speed up websites! Our more advanced tool, Ghostery Midnight, intercepts and blocks trackers in your desktop applications and encrypts your connection with our VPN as well (you can try out our no-obligation 7-day free trial here).

Get in the habit of checking what companies are collecting about you. If a company offers options to adjust privacy settings or delete your data, opt in to those benefits. If it does not, consider taking your business elsewhere.