What Exactly Does the Internet Know About You?

I get it – Facebook, Twitter, Google – they own me. They have all my data: the ads I click, the things I search, the pages I visit. The implications of this lack of privacy have been unfolding slowly, but with a dampened sense of urgency, until the recent Cambridge Analytica revelations, and now, people are realizing too late how valuable their data is.

But here’s the thing – although I understand that the broad implications of this privacy breach are very serious, on a personal level I just find it, quite frankly, a little difficult to care. I’m right on the edge of the generation that was thoroughly indoctrinated by the internet from Day 1. I’m too young to remember dial-up, but old enough to remember when the iPhone came out; one of my earliest memories is my parents getting their first cell phones (my mom had the iconic and beloved Motorola Razr), but I never hung out in AIM chat rooms or had a MySpace. So yes, I vaguely remember a world without internet surveillance, but I came of age in the midst of this new era, so for me it’s just reality; it’s the price you pay for (monetarily) free social media and access to unlimited amounts of information. Anyone younger than me won’t even know life without this surveillance. If nothing else, it’s mildly comforting to know that Google’s got everyone’s data, not just mine.

But not caring is a dangerous pattern to fall into, because it’s fine until it’s not fine. It’s fine when Facebook just knows that I like watching videos about artisanal chocolate making, but it’s not fine when widespread demographic targeting influences a presidential election, which is to say, it’s fine until we noticeit. And at that point it’s too late.

The fact is, unless you’re willing to become a recluse or forego many of the incredible advantages of the internet and mobile technology, there isn’t an enormous amount any of us can do except be careful about what we post, click on, and search for (which you should always be doing anyway). But the one thing you cando is to stay educated. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I believe it’s important for everyone to know exactly what information various sources have on you. It won’t stop them from using it, but it may make you aware of how targeted advertising is affecting your online experience.

Most social media outlets allow you to download an archive of the data they have on you; they just often make it very difficult to find. Here’s a guide to how to get some of that data:

To get all the data Facebook has on you…

Go to Settings > in tiny print at the bottom of your settings click “Download a copy of your Facebook data”

To find out how Facebook categories you…

Go to Settings > Ads (on the left sidebar navigation) > Your Information > Your Categories

To get all the data Google has on you…

Go to myaccount.google.com > Control Your Content > “Create Archive” > Pick what you want in the archive and click “Next” > Choose file settings and click “Create Archive”

*A note about Google’s data archive: For all the work Google puts into making sure your Google calendar syncs seemlessly with your Google Gmail and your Google Docs are all stored in one big happy Google Drive, Google clearly isn’t invested in making sure your Google archives experience is just as convenient. A lot of important and interesting Google data, like your entire search history, is just tossed into a JSON and handed over to you. What about the vast part of the population that doesn’t know what a JSON is? Doesn’t know how to read a JSON? Doesn’t know how/have the tools to open a JSON on their machine? Google, you could do better.

To find out how Google categorizes you and what ads they think you like…

Go to adssettings.google.com.

To get all the data Twitter has on you…

Go to Settings and Privacy > Your Twitter data (left sidebar navigation) > Scroll all the way to the bottom and click the small print that says “Request Your Data”

To get all the data Snapchat has on you…

(Don’t panic – this doesn’t include every snap you’ve ever sent. It’s mostly account info and statistics, ads you’ve interacted with, and timestamps of every snap you’ve sent, with the actual photos redacted. Oh right, it does include Snaps you’ve recently submitted to Our Story, though. Every. Single. One.)

Go to accounts.snapchat.com > Click “My Data” > Scroll to the bottom and click “Submit Request”

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