Data is the new oil. Like oil, data is valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used. It has to be changed into gas, plastic, chemicals, etc. to create a valuable entity that drives profitable activity. so, must data be broken down, analysed for it to have value. Mathematician Clive Humby quated in Forbes article (2022).
Data is a very valuable asset for the companies, and that's a reason why majority of the online services and mobile apps are collecting data. Typically, data is collected ex. to improve the quality of a service and to create customer segmentation/profiling. Unfortunately, there are also services and mobile apps which are heavily collecting data and even exploiting the personal data. User profiles or segments created based on data collection are valuable data to sell for other companies.
This blog post contains some tips how you could try to control and minimize data collection when using different online services & applications (especially social media platforms).
You have probably heard a sentence: "You're the product, not a customer". This basically means that you can use online service or mobile app for free but actually you pay with your data. Most probably your data including clicks, likes, follow ups, browsing history etc. are used to create a user/customer profile about you. This profile is then used to show you targeted advertisement or sell it to another company. This is all about how Google's business model works, their core business is to sell advertisements.
Check App Privacy Details
Apple has published a nice privacy feature in AppStore recently which helps users to understand what kind of data is used to track and link to the user.
This is really good because it helps users to understand better app's privacy practices. Sometimes privacy policies could be a bit hard to read but this view is simple and easy to understand. If you check ex. Facebook's or Instagram's privacy details page, you can see that these applications are collection a lot of data.
2. Verify always app permissions
iOS and Android operating systems provides centralized view to see app permissions. View those permissions frequently and turn off services (ex. location) if you don't want to share that information.
Grant only necessary permissions and if some app requires lot of permissions consider twice to continue usage of that application.
3. Request app or service not to track
Use App Tracking Transparency feature on iOS
App Tracking Transparency feature on iOS forces application to ask permission before tracking your activity across other companies' apps and websites.
Mobile application producers must use AppTrackingTransparency framework if app collects data about end users and shares it with other companies for purposes of tracking across apps and web sites.
Use "Do Not Track" feature on browser
Do Not Track setting on the browser requests website not to track you but eventually website doesn't have any obligations to obey this request so you cannot completely rely on this. You can read more information about this from Wikipedia.
4. Don't use internal browser of mobile apps if you don't know how tracking works
Most of social media services like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter opens links by default to internal browser instead of using default browser. Usage of internal browser enables that app can tracking and monitor all of your moves.
If it's possible change from mobile app's settings to preferable use your default browser. If this is not possible, try to prevent usage of these internal browsers.
5. Consider using VPN to hide IP address
IP address identifies your device and even your physical location (country and state) when you use the internet, it's like your digital fingerprint. It's important to remember that IP address itself is personal data according to GDPR and there must be specific purpose for a data collection.
Typically, web pages/services collect your IP address and combine it with other data related to you like browsing habit. Based on that data companies can profile you and create more personalized content or ads. Sometimes this data is sold for advertising companies to tailor ads for you. Most famous search engines like Google and Bing are also utilizing this how they connect your IP address to your searches.
How can you hide the IP address? VPN connection is most typical solution. VPN connection encrypts your connection to the internet and when traffic flows through VPN server your real IP address and physical location are hided. VPN services typically also rotate the IP address. Hiding or masking your IP address makes user profiling for companies a bit more difficult.
I have been using VPN solution and also tested Apple's iCloud Private Relay solution. Private Relay hides also the IP address even though it's not a VPN solution. This solution is a part of iCloud subscription and currently it works only if you use Safari browser. Read more information about Private Relay from here.
6. Use email service which removes email trackers
When companies send newsletters or promotion email messages to customers, they want to track email opening and clicks to measure customer engagement. Typically, these email messages are sent in HTML format which enables to add invisible tracking images to the content of the message. When user opens the email message then tracking image is activated and customer interaction related data is sent to company's server. This tracking images enables to determine time and date when email was opened. Based on email tracking data marketing department can measure open and click-through rate and maybe create some personalized offer or content for a customer.
One way to prevent email tracking is to use email service which removes those tracking images. I have been using Duck.com Email Protection Service which removes email trackers. Service offers @duck.com email address (not mailbox) which forwards email messages to your existing email address and before forwarding it removes email trackers. You can enable Duck.com Email Protection Service from here.
Duck.com Email Protection service adds privacy report link to email message where you can see how many email trackers were removed from the message.