Naturally, Facebook and Google are at the top of this list. Both have become titans of business by wringing every bit of data out of you. They’ve been caught lying, spying, and backpedaling to get what they want. But this list is also going to focus on new and maybe less-known sites or cases. Here goes!
Top 10 websites that know too much about you
These ten websites are gathering a disturbing amount of data on their users.
Facebook collects data about your contacts, networks and connections, and even how you use any of their other apps, like Instagram, and WhatsApp. Your IP address, location, and even the type of device you’re using is monitored by Facebook.
You can see the exact data Facebook has stored about you, in the “Off-Facebook Activity” settings, within the Facebook mobile app.
Google and YouTube
So, what does Google know about me? You might ask. Google builds complex profiles of users based on their search history and browsing habits, across all of their owned sites like YouTube. Google owns 16 other companies, including Waze, DeepMind, FitBit, and Verily.
Predictions are made by Google about your age, gender, marital status, education and interests, to target you with personalized ads. But quite often, these ‘personalized’ ads are more creepy than they are helpful. Especially coming from a website that knows what you’re doing.
TruthFinder is a background check tool. By scanning both public and private databases, it’ll tell you a persons email address, qualifications, phones numbers, names of relatives, illegal activities, and assets.
If you try it on yourself, you’ll see how creepy a website with personal information on everyone is. Luckily, you can opt-out of TruthFinder’s systems and help hide your information from criminals.
Bookmark this website right now so you can go back and use it every few months – it’s a critically important tool. Haveibeenpwned.com keeps track of data breaches and leaks by gathering data about the accounts affected. Just enter your email and the website will reveal whether your password has ever been leaked.
Given the frequency and scale of data breaches these days, it’s highly likely that your email will be at least somewhat compromised, especially if you’ve been using it to create accounts on other platforms. It’s a scary, eye-opening look at just how widespread cybercrime or careless security can be.
You’ve heard that cookies and tracking pixels can gather tons of information about you. Europe’s GDPR has made it harder for many sites to do so, but did you know that your browser can say a lot about who you are?
That’s what Webkay, a website run by developer Robin Linus, does. When you visit it, it does what thousands of other websites do – it gleans every single bit of information it can, like who you are, where you’re from, and how you’re using the site. The only difference is that Webkay shares those discoveries with you rather than data mining companies. It also gives you tips on how to protect your information from being revealed (hint: using NordVPN can also help with a lot of those issues!).
This fantastic website turns web monitoring into a game. It tracks every single action you take and records it on-screen while a narrator comments on your behavior (it’s worth turning on your sound for the creepy, tongue-in-cheek commentary). It even generates game-like achievements! This illustrates a significant point – clever designers can create sites that trick you into letting your guard down and giving away more data than you should.
This one’s actually a Chrome browser plugin rather than a website, but it’s still a great example of just how unsettling big data can be when you get to look under the hood. This plugin basically just copied Facebook and tracked you in almost every way that Facebook does. Instead of monetizing the data, the plugin lets users see the information it had collected and the uncanny data profile it could create using the same methods that Facebook used.
The plugin has since been shut down, but this video shows what the experience was like and what the app could have discovered about you.
Familytreenow.com is a free genealogy research website that tracks people living in the US by using publicly accessible documents. While you can use it to find family members, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s a website that has all of your personal information and can be used to stalk you on- and off-line. It’s enough to have your full name to find out:
- Your current and previous addresses;
- Your current and past phone numbers;
- Lists of potential family members and associates;
- Plenty of other potential documents (as long as they were publicly accessible at any point).
The site promises even more documents if you pay, but I decided against that luxury.
Go ahead and put in your full name to see how much info about you is easily available. Then, to see just how invasive this service can be, consider looking up a close friend or family member.
If you find it scary, which most of us do, then click here to visit their opt-out page. This will allow you to remove your records from familytreenow.com, but all of that information may still be available in the public domain from government websites or other locations. However, it will become that much harder for any stalkers to find this information when it’s not all in one place.
23andMe.com brought genealogy research into the modern age. It uses customers’ genetic data to trace where they’re from, who they’re related to, and what illnesses they might have. All you have to do is buy a kit, spit in a sample vial, and send it back to them. Unfortunately, it appears that the company isn’t as altruistic as it might seem and might use your results in other ways as well.
So far, they have promised not to share customers’ data with third parties for advertising purposes. However, Google once also promised that it wouldn’t collect data or sell it to advertisers – and look where we are now. It also doesn’t help that 23andMe board member Patrick Chung was quoted saying that profiting from data collection has always been the real goal of the company: “The long game here is not to make money selling kits, although the kits are essential to get the base level data. Once you have the data, [the company] does actually become the Google of personalized health care.”
Once 23andMe has your genome sequenced, here are a few things that can happen:
- It can be sent to a pharmaceutical company for research. This isn’t all bad since genetic databases can be a powerful tool for finding genetic correlations with certain diseases and coming up with cures. However, pharmaceutical companies aren’t developing these drugs out of kindness – they’re profiting off of your genetic information. 23andMe has already started doing this as part of a $300 million deal with GlaxoSmithKline.
- It can get lost in a data leak. No company is 100% safe, and 23andMe is no different. Leaks happen rather often, so it’s up to us to decide whether sharing our data is worth the risk. Would you feel comfortable if your entire genetic sequence would be hacked and sold online for anyone to access?
- You can compromise your relatives’ privacy. Your genetic sequence doesn’t reveal only your own deepest secrets, it also reveals your relatives’ secrets. Hereditary diseases, ethnic origins, or genetic defects are all sensitive issues that people may not want to discuss or even discover.
- You might make your parents get a divorce. At least, that’s what happened to one 23andMe customer who discovered that his father had hidden a child from a previous relationship. Your ancestral history can hide secrets that you or your loved ones may not want to know about.
Target isn’t much different from any other company that tracks its customers’ shopping patterns. However, their strategy for targeting pregnant women wasn’t greeted very well by their customers.
Pregnancy is a sensitive and private time for many families. Some might share photos of their baby bump, while others choose to keep it a secret. That’s why many people were uncomfortable to discover that Target was combining data from their customers’ profiles to target pregnant consumers. They created these profiles using credit card numbers, discount cards, emails, names, third-party data, and anything else that could track an individual’s purchases. Women were assigned “pregnancy scores” based on the products they bought and were targeted as early in their pregnancies as possible – often before they had even decided to tell the world.
In one case, an angry father complained to Target that they were sending his teen daughter coupons for pregnancy products – only to discover that she had been trying to hide her pregnancy from him. Creepy, huh?
How to protect yourself from creepy websites
There are websites that know your information, from what we do online to our genetic data. More importantly, they show how easy it is to gather this information and how profitable it is. In some cases, completely evading the companies tracking may be impossible. However, you can minimize what they know by following these steps.
- Limit the personally identifiable information you share on social media and other platforms. Don’t post images that might identify your home’s location, and keep your accounts private.
- Practice good online behavior, like managing your cookies on websites and reading privacy policies before agreeing to them.
- Keep up to date with the latest data leaks and breaches, so you can find out quickly if your personal information is compromised.
- Change your location with a VPN by switching your IP address. This boosts your privacy and protects you from potential cyberattacks.
- Using NordVPN’s Threat Protection feature to block third-party trackers.