Websites and apps like Google, YouTube, and Instagram are constantly gathering data about you. But that isn’t supposed to happen. There are laws to protect kids under 13 from being tracked online. The problem is that companies often don’t know how old users are. Certain websites are supposed to verify users’ ages, but not all of them do.
As a result, companies could be tracking your every move as you search, watch videos, and play games online.
“Based on your behaviors, companies are able to figure out what things on the internet you will be most interested in,” says Kalinda Raina, an expert on online privacy.
Sometimes, this can be a good thing. For example, when YouTube recommends videos based on what you’ve watched, you might discover something you like.
But websites are mainly collecting data about you for another purpose: to make money. They sell your information to advertisers, who use it to figure out what you’re likely to buy. The advertisers then place ads for those items on the websites you visit often.
This practice is called ad targeting (see “How Targeted Ads Work”). And it’s big business. Google made $116 billion from advertising last year alone.