DENVER — New rules recently went into effect in the European Union requiring companies to change how they use data, and requiring them to tell you about it.
But here in the United States, a Washington Post report found many companies haven't changed anything. It's really up to you to take action to decide how much you want advertisers to know about you.
Websites like Google and Facebook make their services available to us for free. They make their money off advertising.
In fact we're each worth about 80 dollars per year to Facebook.
“The reason we're worth that is that advertisers are willing to send ads to us via Facebook,” says Steven Beaty, a computer science professor at Metro State University in Denver.
The information gleaned from your social media pages, Gmail and Amazon accounts tell companies what exactly you're most likely to buy.
“Historically it was your family who knew what you liked to eat, and how you voted, but now more people have access to those data,” Beaty said.
Google keeps track of your entire search history, what you watch on YouTube, and even scans your Gmail.
But you can change that by logging on to your Google account, and using the activity controls to turn off web and app activity.
Then scroll down and turn off your location history.
Scroll down more and you can turn off your YouTube search history and YouTube watch history.
Some of us like that Amazon keeps track of our previous purchases and tells us about similar products we might enjoy. But if you’re starting to feel like Amazon knows you too well, go to your browsing history on Amazon's homepage, go to ‘manage history,' and turn that setting off.
Next up, take a look at your wish list.
“Most people might not want their wish lists to be public, by default they are, so you have to go in and make them private,” Beaty said.
You can make your wish list private by clicking on the far right tab that allows you to manage your lists, then making those lists private.
And then there’s Amazon’s voice activated assistant, Alexa. She records every question you ask her. You can delete recordings by going to the "account and lists" page on your Amazon account. Then go to manage your content and devices. Find your Echo or other Alexa device in the list, then click manage voice recordings, and hit delete.
Changing these settings may not protect you from every possible hack, but it can limit the information that’s easily available to others.
“In the computer security field we never ask if somebody breaks in, it's when somebody breaks in,” Beaty said. “So when somebody breaks in and is able to see everything you've asked Alexa, are you comfortable with that?”
If the answer is no, then it’s time to check your defaults.
Your cell phone service provider has a wealth of information on you, from your online searches, to your exact location at any moment. There are several default settings you can change and programs you can opt out of to limit the sharing of your information.
AT&T enrolls customers in an advertising program that allows advertisers to target people based on their location. You can turn off off that setting and others by logging onto your AT&T account, go to view profile, communications preferences, then privacy settings. Make sure you opt out of both Relevant Advertising and Enhanced Relevant Advertising.
Verizon has a partnership with Oath that allows them to track you. You can opt out of the default settings by logging onto your Verizon account, go to my profile, then privacy settings. Make sure you opt out of Relevant Mobile Advertising and Businesses and Marketing Insights.
T-Mobile allows advertisers to target you based on your location and web browsing. You can change your default settings by logging onto your T-Mobile account, going to your profile, then privacy and notifications.
Sprint has a program that sells your anonymized data, including your location, to marketers. You can opt out by going to your Sprint account, go to manage mobile advertising and reporting and turn off "business and marketing report preferences."
The Washington Post looked into a number of websites that may be exposing your information. You can see that story and how to change the default settings here.