3 Surprising Ways You Might Be Giving Away Your Personal Information

All the ways advertisers and others get your data

Robert Quinlivan
Published in
6 min readFeb 11, 2020


Photo: Michele Tantussi/Stringer/Getty Images

IfIf you have used the internet at any point in the last 10 years, you’re probably aware that companies are collecting data for advertising purposes. The major players in this market are Google, Facebook, and a handful of startups and small data brokers looking at the new frontiers of data, such as connected appliances and energy grids.

It’s all part of the collection side of the data economy. Targeted advertising requires a high-resolution view of consumer activity in order to build more accurate models for advertisers. While this system of extraction was originally built for advertising, this data is also valuable to the courts, government agencies, and political campaigns.

I will attempt to present a neutral and objective view of these sources of data collection. The only commentary I will make here is that these methods are surprising, by which I mean that the average user of these systems is unlikely to be aware of them.

I feel that “surprise” is an important measuring stick in the data privacy conversation. I don’t think the average person is surprised to learn that Amazon knows their purchase or search history. It may, however, be quite surprising to learn that Alexa passively records conversations.

The internet was designed for open collaboration, but that collaborative design is antithetical to privacy.

1. DNS

The first thing that happens when you type a web address into your favorite browser is that the browser must look up where the server is located.

To locate the server, a Domain Name System (DNS) lookup request is performed. A DNS is a registry of domain names and the IP address associated with each domain. If you want to see it in action, try typing your favorite website into dnslookup.org.

Remember that this DNS request happens before the first byte from the host server has been sent back to the browser. So before you’ve even loaded the content of the page, your DNS knows what website you’re trying to visit.