IT’S NO SECRET that companies like Facebook and Googlescoop up personal information to serve users ads. But if anything became clear this year, it’s that consumers have a lot more to learn about what happens to their data online—how it’s gathered, who gets to look at it, and what it’s worth.
American corporations are expected to have spent over $19 billion this year acquiring and analyzing consumer data, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, from names and emails to the unique way we fumble with our smartphones. That info is used by marketers, advertisers, analysts, and investors for a host of purposes that remain largely opaque to the average person. In some places, seemingly irrelevant factors like the type of device you have, your email address, or the time of day you make a purchase may be used determine whether you qualify for a loan. Despite all the power and value this data can have, there are few laws in the US regulating the collection and sale of it