Internet Algorithms May Affect Your Entire Life

What are you doing with my data?

Internet Algorithms May Affect Your Entire LifeDo you post to social media sites, upload digital pictures and videos, use credit cards or have a cell phone equipped with GPS?

All of the devices we use each day are contributing to what’s known as ‘big data’ or repositories containing your digital profile.

No big deal? Think again.

This data could prevent you from getting a job, help advertisers persuade you to buy their products, or even affect your personal finances.

To some degree, each of us is guilty of sharing our personal information in ways we don’t even know exists, but the data stored about you can result in a lifetime of consequences.

With every click and search, every ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ in social media, you are stripping away some of your privacy and building your digital profile.

“This is the new treasure trove for marketing departments,” says Theresa Payton who is an internet security expert. She is also the co-author of the book, Protecting Your Internet Identity.

Before you scramble for the delete button, it may be too late to get rid of those inflammatory emails, texts, pictures and posts.

“Depending on what systems they used, what search engines they used, they may still see some of that data,” and Payton cautions, “Deleted is really never gone.”

When you join social media sites, Payton says you’re allowing companies to track you.

“As soon as you step foot in the door at Facebook, they just follow you all around the internet, and you don’t even remember giving them permission – do you?” Payton says.

“These algorithms are tracking you, tracking your behavior, and trying to assimilate it to either market products to you, or store that research about you to use at a different date,” she adds.

It’s easy to get lured into sharing our personal information online, and hard to resist the temptation of the latest online games or features. Participating in all of these things, however, can come back to hurt you.

“Yes, judgments are made quickly, online,” says Patty Comer, co-founder of a professional staffing firm called Accrue Partners located in Charlotte, NC.

Comer talks to hundreds of job candidates each week. She relies heavily on a person’s online persona to determine if they are a good fit for a client who is hiring.

According to a survey conducted by Cross-Tab Marketing Services, 70 percent of human resource professionals in the U.S. say they have turned down job candidates based on information found online.

“We actually have icons to press and immediately look at their Facebook profile, their Twitter profile and we also Google their name to identify potential issues,” Comer says.

“We’ve found criminal history that before we ever brought the person in, we were able to find articles, and we didn’t waste our time, or our client’s time bringing the person in,” she adds.

Chris Swecker is the former assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division and owner of The Swecker Group.

“You are writing a permanent record of your life the minute you go on the internet,” Swecker says.

It’s impossible, Swecker says, to avoid all the technology contributing to our digital profile.

“This data is coming is from every direction, your cell phone, where you’re traveling, the GO tracking data, the infinity cards that you use at stores to get a discount, your web searching history, there are even people who drive around all day and record license plates and sell that information,” Swecker says.

“These are all data aggregators and they’re taking all this rich information and its rich for commercial purposes and they are selling it to people for a pretty good price,” he said. “That’s your data, it belongs to you. There are no restrictions on that right now.”

Once your personal information is out there whether true or false, it’s difficult – if not impossible – to change it.

Getting passed over for a job is bad enough, but your digital profile could affect your finances – like how much interest you’ll pay on a loan – or whether you can get insurance.

“Insurers can and, sometimes, will actually do background checks on the internet and they will look for different pieces of information to see what your interests are. Do you have risky behaviors? Things like – do you see them drinking a lot on Facebook, or are they complaining about health issues,” Payton says.

The Rules of Criminal Procedures outlines ‘how’ and ‘what’ government investigators can collect on individuals to ensure the information they gather is admissible in court, and protects someone from government intrusions.

For now, private industry doesn’t have to follow these rules.

“At some point, someone has to push back and say – you know, we’re going to have to put some restrictions on all this data out there because its creating, really, a ‘big brother’ in the private sector,” Swecker says.

The next time you go online to search anything, post a comment on social media, send an email or play a game, beware of the risks and understand your online activities today could impact you years from now.

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