Personal data collection, and the associated risks of that information getting in to the wrong hands has become a big focus over the last few years. It has been brought into the spotlight by the Cambridge Analytica scandal and more recently these concerns around TikTok sharing user information with the Chinese Government.
That is a serious concern. Once you submit your personal information, you can’t say for certain how it is going to be used. Possibly even misused. As well as the broader impact that it might have. However, providing details has become part of the everyday trade-off that we make to use apps.
A huge part of this trade off is when we visit websites. We all just simply click ‘accept’ on the cookie pop-up without reading any of the information, simply so we can see the website sooner.
It has basically become second nature to click the button without even looking. But what do the pop-up banners that we have agreed to actually let those websites do? What data are we giving up every time we click the accept button? Which businesses make the most of our click first attitude?
What data do companies collect?
The types of data that companies can collect ranges from the obvious to the obscure.
Your name, date of birth and email address are all common fields when signing up to a new app, but the data collected can also provide insights into your pets, hobbies, height weight and even what you like to get up to in the bedroom. They can also store your bank details, as well as links to your social media profiles and the data that you share on them.
However, what they do with the data that they have collected will differ heavily on what kind of business they are. Often this will result in you seeing targeted ads based on your interactions.
Luckily, the team at Clario have conducted the research for us covering the types of data that each collects, as well as ranking each, based on those categories, in a nice simple table.
The biggest collectors
This is not the full story – there are also usage insights based on in-app activity, and other, associated data trails which can reveal more about you.
What does all this mean?
Social media collects more data than anybody else
Unsurprisingly Facebook is the top data collector. As a social network, they depend on you giving them access to all your details so they can recommend friends to you, let people know it’s your birthday, suggest groups for you to join and, most importantly, advertise to you.
If you take a look at the latest investor reports, Ads are how Facebook makes most of their money – around $16.6 billion to be precise (based on their 2018 reports). Put simply the more they know about you, the more they can sell on. As well as the usual, such as your name, location, email address and date of birth, they also collect a whole load of things you might not be aware you gave away.
In fact, out of all the data a business can legally collect about you, Facebook collects 70.59%.
Equally unsurprising is that Instagram comes second in the list. Owned by Facebook, the app collects 58.82% of all available data, such as your hobbies, height, weight and sexual orientation. Like their owner, they use most of this information for advertising and recommending accounts you should follow.
Tinder uses your pets to get you a date
55.88% of available data is all Tinder needs to help match you with your perfect partner. As well as knowing about your age, sexual orientation, height, interests and if you own a pet! They also make it easier to upsell you its premium option by storing your bank details. Tinder Plus gives you unlimited likes, and the chance to swipe back just in case you’ve missed the love of your life.
However, beyond trying to get you coupled up, Tinder also tracks how you use different social media platforms if you link your accounts. It also stores all the messages you send to matches, meaning all your flirty chats can be used to target you with advertisements and products.
If you see an ad for a very niche kind of toy pop up, now you know why.
Grindr collects almost as much information, with 52.94% being stored as you look for love.
Retail therapy doesn’t cost all your data
Retailers like Amazon use the LEAST amount of data to target you.
Despite being the biggest online retailer in the world, (and spending around $11 billion on advertising in 2019,) Amazon only collects a fraction of data compared to other businesses, 23.53%.
Beyond the obvious things, like your name, email address, home address and bank details, it collects little else other than what it needs to run its business.
What has been key to Amazons growth has been tracking how you use its site. By monitoring the products you look at, the things you buy and the reviews you leave, it can promote new products to you that match your interests.
General retail came lowest on the list of data-loving companies. IKEA (23.53%), Nike (26.47%) and Depop (26.47) all store your name, email address and home address, along with your bank details to make online purchases easier. Fashion companies Nike and Depop also store your height and weight to help target you with more appropriate clothes.
Spotify uses your social media to decide what you should listen to
Music streaming site, Spotify, collects 35.29% of your data, partly through tapping into your linked social media profiles to understand your interests and hobbies. Ever been to a gig and shared a photo of it on Instagram, just to find that band in your Spotify recommendations? Now you know why.
Rather less surprising is that they also track the music you listen to. This enables them to create playlists based on the music you like. The end of year roundups they do include all the songs you’ve been listening to, and let you look back on the last 12 months of hits (and occasional misses).
Likewise, video-streamer Netflix tracks the kind of shows you watch so it can recommend similar titles. It gives programmes a match rating, letting you see how likely you are to enjoy them depending on what you’ve seen before. The data it gathers is designed to give you a better user experience, meaning you’ll keep coming back again and again to see more of the shows it’s found for you. This is part of the reason that Netflix don’t have you rank films in order when signing up, it found in early user testing that films such as ‘Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘Silence of the Lambs’ would be rated highly but people would be more likely to watch guilty-pleasure sitcoms instead.
Spotify and Netflix are good examples of data collection that people don’t mind. As with most sites, they use the information they learn about you to make your experience better, tailoring the platform to suit your needs.
94% of companies have your email
Out-of the 48 companies asked, 93.75% will request and store your email for future marketing or to stay in touch. An email address is among the basic data a company will ask for – any brand you’ve signed up for, any social media you’re connected to, or any shop you’ve bought from will have it on file.
While they might never use it, they can use it to send you weekly emails that you’ll either find really interesting or send straight to your junk mail.
18% of companies know how much you weigh
What is the one question that you should never ask on a date, but almost 19% of these companies already know the answer to?
Brands such as Slimming World, Strava, Nike and Depop all want to know it for obvious reasons. They are either helping you to keep track of it or they are using it to suggest better clothes.
But in all honesty why Credit Karma and Instagram ask for this information is beyond me.
Can our data come back to haunt us?
Given the huge wealth of data we unknowingly share with businesses, it’s no surprise to see some things revealed about us that we’d much rather were kept private. However, thanks to GDPR (and some cyber security software) what companies can legally do with your data is actually quite limited.
Beyond tailoring marketing to you and using your data to manage their website, business can’t do a lot more. You shouldn’t get cold calls from businesses you’ve never spoken to, for example, or find your details are being sold. Your data is protected by the policies companies are forced to sign up for, and if they break these policies they could face big fines. Just look at Facebook, Twitter and Wonga Loans