Data collection at its core is not malicious. Websites need data to make their products better and to sell you the advertisements that keep them afloat. Social media uses your data to sell ads to make money. At one level it makes sense. It is used to recognize who you are and provide targeted advertising.
However, as we have seen many times, data can be misused, manipulated and used for political agendas. Data hoovering is a largely unregulated industry with all the advantages weighing in for those who gather and use the data.
For the consumer, we have little or no say in how our data is used. For sure there are privacy policies but when you accept them you are often consenting to having your data used.

The browser

Unless you protect yourself, as soon as you open up an internet browser, you begin to leave digital footprints on the sites you visit. These footprints include your current location, which links you’re clicking on and whether you’re using a desktop or mobile.
By default the browser reports various bits of data to the sites you visit.
  • Your browser reports its name, so sites know whether you’re using Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer user. 
  • The browser also sends information about the computer system it’s running on, including your desktop or mobile OS, the CPU and GPU models, the display resolution, and even the current battery level if you’re using a laptop, tablet, or phone. 
  • Some websites can even choose to monitor your mouse movements, mouse clicks and other browser actions.
This data is just the first step in helping websites identify you. When combined with other data points it can pick you out from a crowd.

Another layer of data

  • Third-party cookies are injected across multiple pages through ad networks and other tracking technologies. It’s these cookies that result in you seeing ads for shoes for a whole week just because you accessed a shoe website a couple of times. 
  • The searches you run while signed into Google, things you check while using Facebook, the details you provide on Twitter and so on are also grist to the data mill.  
  • This personal information is harvested by these companies and together with the data that’s already been collected from your online browsing companies like Google and Facebook can easily know you better than you know yourself.
Google has a particularly long reach; it knows your name, your favorite YouTube channels and much more. This data can easily be merged with data from its ad network.

Social media

  • If you have a social media account you effectively give the company permission to monitor everything. It’s partly just common sense so it can monitor and block offensive user behavior. However, it’s yet more data to add on top of data already collected. 
  • On Facebook, for instance, you might reveal who your closest friends are, places you most often visit most, places you eat and even your political, sexual and religious leanings. It knows when you’re expecting a baby, who you’ve worked for in the past, when you log on and off and off. 
  • These data gathering principles are effectively the same on other sites, whether it’s ones you use for booking a hotel, arranging flights, buying clothes or even reading news.
As you can see this is an enormous amount of data.  And we haven’t even mentioned location data which tracks your physical movements too.
In short, everything you do, live and breathe online can be captured, analysed, put together and repackaged to present advertisers with a frighteningly accurate profile.

You decide what data you want to give away

Your data is yours. You can protect and shield your data by using a VPN. It hides your IP address which is door through which the data gobblers enter your world. Hide this and you hide all of your online activity so you are completely anonymous online.
Check out BullGuard VPN, it is one of the best, provides a raft of further benefits, and can be had for a mere £2.70 a month.