So how much are you worth to Google and Facebook? New browser add-on gives users estimate of how much ‘free’ web services are making from their personal data
Privacyfix also helps users to change their profile settings for more privacy
A new browser add-on offers users an estimate of how much ‘free’ internet services like Google and Facebook are making from their personal data.
Just released for the Firefox and Chrome browsers, Privacyfix scans users’ Google and Facebook accounts and shows how they are tracking and sharing your online activities to make money.
The add-on then gives a rough estimate as to how valuable they are to these companies, based on their use of the services. ‘We wanted people to understand, it is a value exchange,’ said the program’s creator Jim Brock.
Not free, not at all: A new browser add-on gives users an estimate of how much money Facebook and Google are making from gathering and trading their personal data
To make its estimate, Privacyfix measures users’ past 60 days of activity on Google, extrapolates that to a year, then uses a value-per-search estimate.
Mr Brock, founder of Privacy Choice, an online privacy campaign, admits the estimates are rough, but added that the function is mainly there to help users understand the quid pro quo involved with the uses of the services.
While Facebook and Google do not charge for access, both companies – as well as many other internet firms – make their money by taking their users’ data and selling it on to advertisers.
Mr Brock says his estimated annual Facebook value was just $1.68, but says his daughter’s worth to the company was a rather more significant $12. His value to Google was significantly higher, at more than $700 a year.
As well as giving these estimates, Privacyfix scans users’ Google and Facebook privacy settings to highlight which need to be changed to indicate that you don’t want your personal data shared with other companies.
The extension then takes you to each site to make fixes, explaining the pros and cons of each change in clear, direct language.
‘Default privacy settings on sites like Facebook are revenue- driven, not privacy-driven,’ Mr Brock said. ‘Privacyfix puts you back in control of your data.’
How private is your Facebook profile? The service also takes users through the privacy settings of Google and Facebook showing which ones need to be changed to indicate that they don’t want their data to be shared
The application promises to block tracking by over 1,000 sites, paying particular attention to Facebook and Google. It was developed with input from several hundred testers who helped with developing the user interface.
Privacy Choice, Mr Brock’s organisation, helps some one million people track their privacy with a range of apps and services.
On the Privacy Choice blog, he warns: ‘At least 1,200 companies now profile what you do across websites for ads and marketing.
‘Social networks have managed to plant widgets everywhere that collect data about what you read and where you go.
‘Anybody can target ads to you using your email address, fueling a robust business in matching your email to characteristics like your income level and your politics.
‘Marketers now use IP addresses to link what you do on your phone with what you do on your laptop.’
You are being watched: Privacyfix also promises to block tracking by over 1,000 other sites
Reviews of the Privacyfix app were largely positive. ReadWriteWeb writer Dave Copeland described the application’s initial scan as ‘eye-opening‘.
‘I had manually gone through my Facebook privacy settings earlier this year, amping up my privacy and deleting apps I didn’t use anymore,’ he wrote.
‘PrivacyFix showed me that many of the apps had been reactivated on Facebook and several Facebook privacy settings – including the one that allows Facebook to use my likes in advertising – had reverted back to less-private settings.
‘It told me that Facebook tracks on a whopping 86 per cent of the sites I have visited and makes, on average, about 16 cents per year on ads at my level of activity.’
Joe Mullins, reviewing the app for ArsTechnica, who claimed to be a ‘minimal user of Facebook’ said he was nonetheless surprised to find the social network tracked him across 87 per cent of the internet.
‘Privacyfix has a checklist for Facebook privacy settings, with orange warning signs near settings that users might want to take a look at,’ he said.
‘Unless you’re a complete privacy hawk already – or you don’t care at all – you’ll probably find something new on that list that you weren’t aware of.’
OVER HALF OF SMARTPHONE USERS REJECT APPS OVER PRIVACY FEARS
Users of mobile devices are rejecting or uninstalling some apps because of concerns about how much personal and private information is collected, a U.S. survey has shown
The Pew Internet Project survey found that 54 per cent of mobile users who download apps have decided to not install an app when they discovered how much personal information they would need to share in order to use it.
Additionally, 30 per cent of app users have uninstalled an app that was already on their phone because they learned it was collecting personal information that they did not want to share.
The survey came amid growing concern among lawmakers and civil liberties groups that personal information may be collected by phones and other mobile devices, often without their knowledge.