What does the internet know about me?

Emma McGowan 18 Jan 2021

Introducing Avast's 2021 project that aims to help us take control of our digital identities

What does the internet know about you, really? The other day my oldest friend said, “I just assume everything I do online is tracked.” And she’s basically right — we’re being tracked and collected and sometimes even sold, all over the internet. This fact probably isn’t too shocking to most people in 2021. Even if it should be.

Because “the internet” and “tech” are largely abstract to most of us, it can be hard to conceptualize what it really means to have these different datasets, composed of tiny parts of us, floating out around in the technosphere. I think that’s one of the main reasons so many people — like my friend — have adopted an attitude of complacency toward data collection online. It’s too much to think about, so we choose to just accept it and move on.

But an increasing number of people are starting to think that maybe it’s worth diving into this complicated world of internet privacy. The questions (and answers) are complicated, sometimes technical, and often philosophical:

  • How and why is data collected?
  • How do we build a digital world that prioritizes humanness over profit?
  • What have we already given away? And can we get it back?

I don’t have answers to these questions yet if I did, I’d be the most famous digital theorist out there. (And I’m certainly not that.) But what I am is a millennial who came online as a child and who has stayed connected to and fascinated by the internet for two and a half decades. I’m a person who has been writing about tech, working for tech companies, and living a good portion of my life online for my entire adult life. And I’m a person who has given up a lot of pieces of data — pieces of me — without really understanding what was happening. (Or why. Or to whom. Or… any of it, really.)

It can overwhelming to think about. But in an effort to feel more in control of my digital identity — and to help you feel more in control of yours — I’ve decided to embark on a year-long project I’m calling “What Does The Internet Know About Me?” I’m going to start with my body, focusing on different apps and services, and then moving on to bodily systems like mental health, digestive system, and cardiovascular health. From there I’ll be expanding out to physical spaces — home, neighborhood, government — as well as corporate entities. And I’m including children in this project as well because even though I don’t have my own yet, it’s such an important area of discussion.

I’m focusing on me because it’s a personal, relatable way to dive into this complicated stuff. But because I know that the world is much bigger than me — and that my identity and perspective are limited — I’ll be pulling in friends, family, and colleagues along the way. Stay tuned — as each investigation comes out, I’ll be adding the links below so it’s easy to follow along.

  1. Here's what your Fitbit knows about you
  2. What does your Peloton know about you?
  3. What does your Apple Watch know about you?
  4. Here's what your MyHeritage DNA testing kit reveals about you
  5. Ever wondered what MyFitnessPal knows about you?
  6. What does Noom know about you?
  7. What does your EufyLife smart scale know about you?
  8. Which details do we give to tech companies about our cardiovascular systems?
  9. Here's what your Amazon Echo knows about you
  10. What does your Google Nest thermostat do with your data?
  11. Here's what your iRobot knows about you
  12. Here's what your Ring doorbell knows about you
  13. What data does the Oura ring track?
  14. Is Nextdoor just a surveillance tool?
  15. What do security cameras know about you?
  16. Food delivery apps are hotter than ever — what do they track?
  17. What does Facebook actually know about you?
  18. Who can see your address online?
  19. What does Amazon know about you?
  20. What does Twitter know about you?
  21. What does TikTok know about you?
  22. What does Apple know about you?
  23. Wrap-up: What does the internet know about us?

Ultimately, I hope this series helps you understand where your data is being collected, by whom, and why. And I hope it helps you make educated decisions about what works for you — and what simply doesn’t. It’s a small step toward taking back our digital identities and becoming informed consumers and citizens.

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