Many search engine users unaware of personal data collection

Many users of online search engines are still unaware that data is being collected about them for personalised advertising, a study has revealed

Nearly a third (32%) of searchers are unaware that their personal location is collected to display personalised ads, and the majority do not know what kind of information is involved, according to a study by the Reboot Digital Marketing Agency.

The study is based on an analysis of findings by UK communications regulator Ofcom in their AdTech market research report on how savvy searchers are when understanding their data privacy rights.

The Ofcom survey polled 1,690 searchers of free-to-use websites, asking users if they were aware of the eight different types of data used to display personalised adverts.

The findings show that most search users (64%) are unaware that their unique identification code is being collected, while 54% are unaware that their year of birth is being collected.

This is followed by device identifiers – such as the model of phone, operating system and IP address – with 53% being unaware, gender (39%), location (32%) and past purchase history (31%).

The data types collected that most people are aware of  are search history and browsing history, but still 24% of respondents did not know this data was collected.

In addition, the Reboot Digital Marketing Agency found from Ofcom’s report that more than half (53%) of web searchers ignore cookie notices, therefore avoiding clicking to discover exactly how their details are being used.

Out of those, almost 29% ignore notifications about cookies because they believe they cannot do anything about the use of their data, which the analysis report notes is a “worrying misconception”.

In light of the findings, Reboot’s managing director Shai Aharony has provided three tips on how to avoid falling into the data privacy trap of online searches:

  1. Learn the jargon – There’s an abundance of technical terms in the online world, and understanding what they entail will help you to understand precisely how your data will be used. Start by finding a layman’s guides to cookies, asking for help on forums and reading around general topics of relevance – and consequently take confidence in the fact that you’re in the know.
  2. Read the fine print – It’s important to understand which data is being collected about you. While the amount of literature on the topic may be overwhelming, the more you read, the more understanding you will gain. You’ll start to notice similar writing styles and repeated terms/phrases between many websites, not to mention, your newfound knowledge for these technical jargons from following step one.
  3. Don’t ignore pop-ups – Many notifications state that by browsing a website, you agree to its terms and conditions. By proceeding to browse without reading said Ts and Cs, you’re automatically giving websites the go-ahead. Make sure to check what data is being collected, and know that if you want to change your preferences then you can do so immediately.

Read more about data privacy

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Read more on Privacy and data protection

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