Savy internet users are generally aware of the amount of data transmitted to various 3rd party websites who can then use the same data to target ads and suggest services while you surf and search the internet.
Understand the extent of the problem
Google and Facebook have possibly the largest collection of your personal and private information. Right from your email, to what you search, travel and watch online, Google has everything on you while Facebook has access to your lifestyle and social life.
To keep things in perspective, here’s what you know about your friends: birthday, likes and dislikes, political views, current and past interests.
Here’s what Facebook knows about your friends: birthday, place of birth, likes and dislikes, current location & activity, religious views, political views, who their friends and family are.
Those who are Facebook enabled (install apps, play games, like pages, use Facebook as sign-in etc), unknowingly pass along their browsing information to their friends who will inadvertently share it with their friends and so on. The information is passed on to Facebook as well the owner of the App or Page you are using. They may share the information or use it in house to “improve customer experience”. The better your profile is filled and the more “recommended” your privacy settings are, the more is at stake.
Those who sign in to to Google and enable web history or Google Chrome users who Sign-in to Chrome save all their internet activity to their Google accounts. This is over and above information already tracked via websites and services for Ad placement etc.
Any information transmitted over SSL is secured, encrypted and not stored.
Unfortunately for most of us, we find the settings daunting and do not like going into the unknown. PrivacyFix is a great utility available for Firefox (addon) and Chrome (extension) that will take a look at your settings for Facebook and Google and inform you exactly what is being done with your data. It also tells you how much you are worth to them based on the information you share/is available to them.
It covers Facebook profile, posts and likes, information collected when you visit sites with Facebook like boxes and widgets. The information each Facebook App has access to and what it can do with it is also checked. PrivacyFix explains them in “human readable” format, allowing you to review, change and block access as necessary.
It covers Google Search (your search history), Google+, +1s, Google widgets, tracking, ad placements etc. Unfortunately for Gmail users, it cannot access your email activity and tell you exactly what and how much Google knows you. In fairness, Google doesnt really save the information outside of Gmail and ads are only generated when an email is read or when you browse through your inbox and other Labels. Nevertheless PrivacyFix tells you where you stand with data that is openly being shared by everyone using Google Services. That in itself is a very large network.PrivacyFix helps in keeping you informed of changes in their sharing policies as well as guide to take steps necessary in keeping your data private.
PrivacyFix takes a look at your past web history (on your computer) and informs you what the organisation does with your information. Does it share your information? Will it remove the data when asked? Will it inform you if it discloses your information to someone else? Do they keep your information confidential (not sell it to a 3rd party)?
PrivacyFix takes a look at the cookies saved on your computer and tells you exactly what each service does. Personally, I was unaware how many ad networks, data brokers, analytic companies are out there and what they do with the information. You have the options to fix this and disable tracking on your computer via browser settings.
The HealthBar feature acts like a maintenance tool for the paranoid. Unless you happen to be working on top secret assignments or for some extremist group, there is no need to turn this on and keep everything out of your system, as suddenly you may find that Google is not as smart as you thought or that you have trouble discovering interesting things out there. Nevertheless, it is there.
Install the tool and run it atleast once and after that use it once in 3 months to keep yourself abreast. Organisations are run by people and people can make bad choices thus what the internet knows and says about you should always be in your control.