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With new GDPR introduced this year we’re now bombarded with pop ups on every app and website we use, asking us to consent or allow these tech giants to use our data. These apps which are often free to download still have a price in the form of data. Apps are collecting personal data (sometimes without permission) and using it for targeted advertising, otherwise known as ‘data harvesting’ or ‘web scraping’. According to the University of Oxford, data harvesting is ‘out of control’ with third parties gaining access to personal data from the apps we use.

What is data harvesting?

Data harvesting is the process of extracting data from websites using malicious bots. It involves gathering and storing data such as age, gender and location for it to be used for advertising purposes. Data harvesting methods can be anything from saving an image and ‘screenshotting’, to using scripts and bots to automatically collect this data, and it is the latter which is causing the most concern.

How big is the problem of data harvesting?

Recent research from the University of Oxford has found that 90% of free apps share data with third party organisations. This research analysed Android apps which are sending data to Google’s parent company Alphabet for the purpose of targeted ad campaigns. It’s always been known that our data is collected but the extent of this is quite surprising and the methods used are often unsolicited. Although some apps make us aware of this and ask for consent, how many of us pay attention to these pop ups and click allow for the sake of making it disappear so we can use the app? We’re all guilty of doing this but by doing so we’re exposing ourselves to data harvesting.

How to prevent/limit data harvesting

There are certain steps you can take yourself to protect your personal data from getting into the wrong hands. Firstly, be aware of the information you’re submitting and if it’s more than you’re prepared to give, don’t submit it! This means that, although an inconvenience, you should read the terms and conditions and only click allow if you truly consent to how your data is being used.

Password protection is also important to keeping your data safe, although it won’t stop data harvesting, it is a way of protecting your data from those who are unauthorised to access it.

If you’re trying out apps and services it’s wise to use temporary email addresses until you’re committed to using this service, to avoid your data being shared unnecessarily and reduce junk emails.

Data harvesting is very sophisticated which makes it difficult to completely stop, the best advice is to stay vigilant online and follow these steps to protect your data in general.

For advice on staying secure online and preventing data loss, give our team a call on 0151 230 2424.