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As you know, I’m a big fan of saving money. And I love that there are so many apps and websites that make saving money easier than it’s ever been before. But there’s a potential downside to these tools that I don’t think everyone realizes. What is it? Access to your data and privacy.
Setting the Stage
Let’s take a few steps back first. It’s important to realize that these companies offering cash back or ways to save money aren’t just being altruistic. There’s something in it for them too. That’s not inherently bad. It’s just reality.
So why do these companies offer these programs? In a word? Money. Just realize that if you get money back for using their site or app, they’re also getting money back. So it’s worth their while to get as many people signed up and using their program as possible in order to maximize their return. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s capitalism at work.
Ebates is a great example of this. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Ebates and recommend it all the time (like here, here, and here for starters!). And every time you make a purchase through their site, they get a commission for referring you to the store.
But these companies are getting more than just a commission when you use their service. They’re also getting a massive amount of data about you.
Let’s go back to my Ebates example. Because I shop using their app, they know what stores I like, how much I spend during my trip, the kinds of products I like, and how often I shop. From there, they can probably get a pretty good sense of my demographics. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that just scratches the surface as to what they know about me. Using all of that data, they can tailor advertisements to me to increase the chances I will use their service.
There’s nothing new with targeting advertisements to specific demographics. But what is new in the last decade or so is the vast quantity of data companies have on nearly every single one of us.
My goal isn’t to scare you, but it is smart to consider a few things before signing up for every money saving or money making app under the sun.
Your Data Protection Plan
Before I sign up for any apps, I do my due diligence. I thoroughly check out the app or website and ask myself several questions:
- What does this company do? Pretty basic, I know, but you need to understand the services the company offers to understand how it will affect your data and privacy.
- What’s their business model? You don’t need to know their marketing plan, their five year strategy, or anything crazy complex, but you should understand why they’re in business. Like I said before, these companies aren’t in business out of the goodness of their heart. They’re in it to make money too. Understanding how they do it (commission, referral bonuses, etc.) is critical to knowing how much data they’re going to be collecting on you.
- Who has access to my information? Does your information stay within the app, or do they transfer it to third parties?
- What information am I giving them access to? Have you ever wondered why apps ask for your location, or access to your camera, contacts, and files? Does it make sense that the app would need that information? Are you giving them access to your email or social media accounts? Your online profile is a treasure trove of data. It contains your likes, dislikes, friends, celebrities or sports teams you follow, and often your political or religious beliefs. I find it CRAZY that a grocery rebate app could have access to all of that information.
- What am I agreeing to by signing up? I know you don’t read the ginormous privacy policies these companies have. I’m writing a post on data and privacy and I don’t even read them word for word. But I do generally give them a quick scan, particularly when I’m on the fence about signing up for a service. Things I pay particular attention to are my obligations for using the app, how I can cancel my account, and what I am allowing the company to send me.
- How do I cancel my account? If it takes me more than a few minutes to find a “close account” link, I’m not going to sign up for it. If a company is going to make it hard for me to revoke their access to my data, they’re not getting it in the first place!
- Does this company seem reputable and trustworthy? This is mostly a gut check. If the website or app feels too slick or sleazy, close the window and don’t look back.
I know this seems like a lot of work, but your data and privacy is worth it. And in reality, it doesn’t take me that long to evaluate a service. Of the list above, I weight questions 4-7 the most heavily and focus on those.
Limiting Your Exposure
By no means am I an expert on this topic. But I have developed a few tips to limit the degree to which my data is out there and protect my privacy.
- I never connect my social media accounts with apps. I always sign up for things with my email, never Facebook. It probably takes me a few extra seconds to sign in, but to me, it’s worth it to keep my data de-linked. Especially with the all of the flak Facebook is under lately for allowing third parties access to their data, I’m very comfortable with keeping my accounts separate.
- I am very wary of app updates. I disabled automatic updates for apps on my phone. Why? Because I want to know what these updates mean for my data and privacy. When your phone prompts you that it has updates for your apps, do you read through to see what the updates are? You should! I’ve found music apps that want access to my contacts and camera. Why? Why does an app need my contacts to play music for me? I’ve had puzzle apps that want access to my location, even though they’re solo games that I can play offline. Um. No. Before automatically clicking “update all” take a look to actually read what the updates are. Your data and privacy is worth the time.
- I generally block apps from having access to my location. It just creeps me out that some super computer out there knows where I am, what shops I like to go to, where my kids go to school, where I work, etc., etc., etc. Unless I need directions somewhere, I have location services on my phone turned off.
- I limit the number of apps I have. The fewer apps I use, the fewer companies have access to my information. And if I’m not using the app on a regular basis, I delete my account and remove the app. It’s worth scrolling through your apps every few months to do a cleanup before it becomes unmanageable.
- I have a separate email account for all of my online shopping and apps. This way, if one of the stores I frequent or apps I use get hacked, my personal emails and contacts are safe.
- I usually don’t let a website or app save my credit card information. I don’t even save my banking information on my phone in case I accidentally lose it.
- I don’t give apps access to my email. Even though I have the separate email account for my online shopping, giving an app access to my email just makes me nervous.
- Sign up for two-factor authentication. This is when you sign into a website or app and they send you an email or text to confirm you logged in. Yes, it’s a bit of a pain to go through an extra step to get where you’re going, but it limits the likelihood that someone else will be able to log into your accounts. Again, your data and privacy is worth a few more seconds of your time.
Protecting Your Data and Privacy
Like I said at the beginning, it isn’t my goal to scare you away from the internet and money saving apps, but I hope I’ve given you a few things to think about.
So what do you do? Crawl under the covers and shun the internet? Go back to a flip phone? No, you don’t need to anything that extreme. Following the steps I outlined above will help you to manage your data and privacy. But I fully believe that all of us can benefit from an identity monitoring service.
There are several options on the market and they all have different features and benefits. I urge you to do your research to find the service that best works for you.
In my post on how your employer can save you money, I highlighted that my company pays for an identity monitoring service. Unfortunately, only I am covered. I can’t enroll my spouse or kids. Better than nothing, but I want coverage for my entire family. I’ve done my research and two companies have stood out among the rest.
Identity Guard uses artificial intelligence to constantly scan the millions of pieces of data that make up your identity. If they detect your information may be at risk, they’ll alert you so you can take action. And if you do have to take action, you’ll have a case manager to walk you through it and help you resolve the issue. They also offer $1 million in insurance coverage to help cover you financially against stolen funds. How’s that for peace of mind?
It offers a thirty-day free trial enrollment, which is a great introduction if you’re on the fence about using an identity monitoring service. I also love that it has various plans to meet your budget and needs, from individual or family basic, all the way up to premier. Start your 30 day free trial today!
With over forty years in business (who knew identity monitoring services were in business for so long?!?) IdentityForce has the expertise to protect your data and privacy. They monitor your credit and personal information and scan the dark web to determine when your information is at risk. With 24/7 monitoring, they’ll alert you when they detect activity that may jeopardize your identity.
IdentifyForce Certified Protection Experts will manage your entire recovery plan should you fall victim to identity theft. They’ll make calls and fill out paperwork on your behalf, and you’ll be covered by their $1 million identity theft insurance policy. If you have your identity stolen, they will work to get everything resolved.
IdentityForce has a two week free trial and both individual and family plans to suit your budget. What’s also interesting is that IdentityForce is the only identity protection service offering medical identity theft coverage.
Don’t Forget the Kids!
Kids make an attractive target for identity thieves. Most are clean slates without any credit history. They won’t know for years (until they start applying for jobs or college) that their identity has been stolen. By that time, their information could have been out there for nearly two decades and their credit is likely wrecked.
It will take a lot of time and probably a lot of money to try to bounce back from that. And in the meantime, they’re going to have a nearly impossible time getting approved for a credit card, student loan, or car loan. Their lives are pretty much going to be on hold until they can get everything sorted out, if they can get everything sorted out. Not exactly the future we have in mind for our kids! Spare them the trouble and get them protected today!
How Much Is Your Privacy Worth?
I hope I have given you some food for thought on how you manage your personal information. Yes, some of these tips I suggest take a bit of time, and yes, identity monitoring services are an investment. But with today’s connected world and with hackers getting more sophisticated every day, I believe it is worth the time and money spent to keep you and your family safe.
Ultimately you have to make the decision as to what your information is worth and what makes sense for you. Like I said throughout this post, my goal was to raise awareness, not scare. I hope I have succeeded.
Do you have any tips to protect your data and privacy? Share in the comments below!