Security online is important but also confusing. If you’re concerned about your information circulating online and resulting in security issues, you may not know where to begin. Start with learning more about who collects your information and how they use it. This will allow you to make smarter choices online and help you take the next step to greater security.

The State of Your Online Info

As everyone does more online, keeping up with how and where your information is used is increasingly complex. It has become nearly impossible for the ordinary internet user to keep pace with marketers, businesses, and hackers.

Most of the people gathering personal information online are interested in targeting you for sales. Companies have gotten very sophisticated and sneaky about collecting your data. On the other end of the spectrum, hackers and identity thefts have also upped their game.

Your information is valuable to others, from creating targeted ads to internal website research and insurance company analysis. Here are just a few ways these groups may use your data that you didn’t realize was happening.

  1. To Target Your Ads to a “T”

This is one of the creepiest uses of personal data because it makes you feel like someone is watching you or even monitoring your thoughts. Ads pop up on websites you view and social media pages showing you exactly what you had just been thinking about buying.

Brands look at what you post on social media and pages you visit, even your level of engagement on them, to tightly target advertisements.

Your online shopping habits particularly factor into these targeted ads. If you browse on Amazon for a pair of running shoes, don’t be surprised if every other site begins offering you ads for all types of running gear.

  1. To Study You (and Everyone Else)

Research is also a big part of collecting personal information online. It’s not just you; the researchers want to learn about everyone together. They study groups of people to get a better understanding of how people behave in general.

Of course, a major part of this study of online behaviors is for advertising purposes. If advertisers better understand categories of people, they can market products more successfully. They study and create groups, like ‘cat ladies’ or ‘20-something gamers.’

Scientists also look at online information for research. Social scientists are particularly interested in how people interact online and how they search, shop, and behave. They look at social media posts, moods, habits, and more. Researchers get a lot out of online information, especially on social media.

  1. Data Brokerage

In addition to companies looking at your information to sell you things, there are companies whose sole purpose is to sell your information. These are data brokers. They collect all kinds of helpful information, including very sensitive material like birth dates, divorce papers, and social security numbers, and sell it to the highest bidder.

  1. To Set Your Insurance Rates

One of the big buyers of information from data brokers is the insurance industry. It’s a type of research all its own: looking at online information to set your rate. The more it knows about you, the more an insurer can tailor its rates to your risk factors.

An insurance company might be interested in your lifestyle and health habits, medical records, and hobbies. Knowing what you do with your life can give an insurer an idea of how likely you are to get sick, become injured, or even die.

Insurers can also use your online information to reject a claim. They have been known to search through policy holders’ social media accounts to look for reasons not to compensate them.

What You Can Do

These are just some of the ways companies use your online information. It may seem hopeless, but you can do something about how much and what they see about you.

A professional service can do things like remove your name from Google, promote a better online reputation, and even remove negative information and leaks of your sensitive data. It’s true that there’s little you can do on your own, but these companies are experts at doing the work for you.

Protect Yourself Online

Knowing how your information is used should empower you to be more careful. With this knowledge, you can choose what you share and do online more carefully, but, in some cases, the damage may already be done. In that case, contact a professional service to help rebuild your reputation.