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How to ensure your social media privacy

Matt Kapko | May 15, 2014
Living a genuinely private life in today's increasingly social and interconnected world requires an equal measure of patience, research and ingenuity. Of course, digital marketers say you worry too much.

Considering all the hoops and roadblocks she encountered on her journey, it's no wonder her new strategy is to tell outright lies and use disposable identities to throw data brokers off her family's trail. Angwin, who recently wrote a book titled "Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance," now has a credit card and dozens of online shopping accounts registered under a false identity.

"This is not the world we want to live in," she says.

Angwin quit using Google's online services and switched to DuckDuckGo for search and WhiteHat Aviator for online browsing. She also encourages consumers to install Disconnect, an app that exposes and blocks access to the thousands of data brokers that are otherwise invisibly collecting personal data online, including site visits and search queries.

"It is pretty inconvenient to live the way that I live," she tells CBS, after showing producers the metal-lined bag she uses to shield and store her smartphone. In order to live a private existence, people will unavoidably have to give some things up, she adds.

"The data broker industry isn't all evil. There are companies that are doing bad things and there are companies that are trying to help you. You might want to get a lot of coupons and information about discounts," says Maria Gavrilovic, a producer at "60 Minutes." What's missing is choice, she says, and it's that lack of choice that people are most upset about.

Name and Shame the Bad Actors

For now, choices over who collects our data, how they do it, when they do it and who they share it with, rests almost exclusively on the shoulders of the data marketing industry itself. Self-regulation is the name of the game.

Congress and the Federal Trade Commission are looking into some of the most alarming cases of abuse and appear to be working on a parallel track to increase the transparency of data collection and put more protective measures on the books.

Until that time comes, however, industry groups like the Direct Marketing Association are highlighting the already self-imposed limits of data collection while at the same time dismissing most concerns about nefarious conduct. The DMA is comprised of thousands of companies and organizations that use online data for advertising or marketing purposes.

Rachel Thomas, vice president of government affairs at the DMA, tells that members regularly update guidelines for ethical business practices and points to the group's compliance work, and as examples of the industry giving consumers choice and control over the ads they receive online or in the mail.


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