Privacy protector helps consumers see what information companies are using


Shoppers and online users are notorious for giving companies free access to personal data. This includes credit card information, Social Security numbers and even location tracking.

"What happens when we want to download or install something on our computers that we just want, we just don't care what we click on,” said Eduardo Casillas, owner of ER Computer Doctors in west El Paso.

We are all guilty of checking the box that reads “click to agree” without ever taking the time to actually read the terms of the agreement that we are agreeing to.

“I sometimes think that they make it purposefully long so that we just agree - no matter what.” said Casillas. While Casillas is the guy we bring our computer to when we experience an issue, he says he is no different than the rest of us. “I do things on the fly. I go from liking it, to needing, to wanting to not being able to live without.”

The Center for Identity at UT-Austin says that it is time for online users to be more conscientious of what personal information they are giving away.

The University of Texas-Austin has developed a plug-in called Privacy Check to help consumers quickly break down what is in the privacy policy that we are agreeing to online. It can help determine what information consumers are allowing private companies to use, share or even sell about you.

“It'll ‘read’ the privacy policy for you and tell you what's in it,” says Suzanne Barber, director of the Center for Identity, “What are you actually agreeing to?”

In order to develop the technology, lawyers, computer scientists and public policy experts analyzed 1,000 privacy policies and then created an algorithm that could quickly decipher them.

In less than two seconds, the browser plug-in scans the policy for 10 key privacy elements:

How does the site handle your email address?

How does the site handle your credit card number and home address?

How does the site handle your Social Security number?

Does the site use or share your personally identifiable information for marketing purposes?

Does the site track or share your location?

Does the site collect personally identifiable information from children under 13?

Does the site share your information with law enforcement?

Does the site notify you or allow you to opt out when its privacy policy changes?

Does the site allow you to edit or delete your information from its records?

Does the site collect or share aggregated data related to your identity or behavior?

Researchers found the typical privacy policy is about 2,500 words and takes 10 minutes to read. The average person comes across about 1,500 of these every year. Reading them all would take 10 straight days.

KFOX14 showed the plug-in to Casillas and he ran it on his most frequently used sites. He quickly learned more about the sites he’s been using and how some were using his location without him realizing it.

One of those sites is Facebook, so we reached out for a response. Facebook does give third parties your age, gender and location but says it does not release information that’s personally identifiable or would tell someone exactly who you are. However, it does give some personal data to vendors or service providers. Facebook says those organizations are held to strict confidentiality agreements.

These policies aren't limited to search engines and social media. They're all around-- whether you're picking up a prescription, setting your DVR, signing up for a workout class or buying movie tickets online.

Want to know what information you're giving to companies you do business with daily? Install Privacy Check for Google Chrome here.

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