What Do Online Companies Know About You? - ABC5 News Des Moines, IA

What Do Online Companies Know About You?

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By Alex Schuman

aschuman@myabc5.com

@alexschuman

The NSA leaks showed us that the government can easily access our online information, but when it comes down to it, private companies may be holding the real jackpot. 

Companies like Google keep track of your information.  They save it in data centers to use for advertising and give to third party companies who sell the information.

"The service is not free," said Doug Jacobson, a professor of computer engineering at Iowa State University.

By clicking the "agree" button when you sign up for an account and signing into your email, you should know you give the company permission to track your searches and even read your emails.

You can make it tougher for them to track you by disabling the "cookies."  Cookies are what the companies put on your computer to track where you go.

Do the following to clear them out:

- Go to the "Settings" on your search engine

- Then go to "Privacy"

- Click "Clear Browser"

- And then pick everything you do not want them to remember

- If you have Google Chrome set the erase, "To the beginning of time"

- Then click the "Clear" button at the bottom.

Professor Jacobson warns doing this could make things inconvenient.

"If you disable cookies... a lot of things break," he said.  "Amazon doesn't remember who you are."

You can also stay anonymous by doing your searches without signing into your email.

"As soon as you start telling companies who you are," said Jacobson.  "Then they can start to build profiles about you.  It's an invasion of privacy probably if that profile gets out.

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