Belgian internet users are geotagged an average 288 times a day
Belgian internet users are having their location tracked by giant technology companies an average of 288 times a day. This finding is among the conclusions of a report by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), an NGO active in the protection of privacy.
Its research revealed that personal behavioural and geolocation data of an American Internet user is shared 107,000 billion times each year with thousands of companies, Le Soir reports. For the average European, the figure drops to 71,000 billion.
The ICCL called this revelation “the largest data breach ever recorded”.
While American daily averages (747) for being tracked were much higher than those for internet users in Europe (376), Belgium’s 288 figure is somewhat low in comparison.
The difference between Europe and the US can largely be explained by the four-year-old European GDPR legislation, which requires websites to ask for explicit consent to collect visitors’ data, or “cookies”.
Data harvesting figures likely to be far higher
But the staggeringly high figures in the ICCL report are likely to be well below reality because the NGO was unable to collect data from Facebook and Amazon, two major offenders when it comes to data harvesting.
The other top offenders – Google and Microsoft – were included, however, with Google alone sharing its users’ data 42 billion times a day to over 1,000 third-party companies.
Among these companies are advertisers, but also enterprises based in China or Russia, which collect or purchase that data with less clear objectives.
Theoretically, the companies are not permitted to have identifying information about individual users, but by cross-referencing the data they do have, tech giants can strongly influence people’s purchasing behaviour, and even their opinions and voting choices under certain circumstances.
It’s difficult for internet users to completely prevent their data from being harvested by massive corporations who then sell it to thousands of third-party companies around the world. But there are certain steps that can be taken to reduce the number of times it occurs, mainly through adjusting the settings on one’s mobile phone.
Mobile phone users can deactivate geolocationing in their settings, generally under the privacy tab. They can also manage the permissions of individual applications on their phones to limit access to information like contacts, photos, or browsing history.
Users can also disable ad tracking under privacy settings (for Apple phones) or Google account settings (Android phones).
When it comes to browsing the internet, using incognito mode or another form of private browser doesn’t prevent personal data from being shared with Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The most effective method is through using a VPN, or Virtual Private Network.