MIAMI VALLEY, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) - If you've ever felt like companies are stalking you online, you're not crazy, because they are.
Companies are constantly tracking you, trying to influence you and get you to buy their products, and their best tool is social media. ABC 22/FOX 45's Kristen Cornett went to the experts to find out how it works, and what you can do to control your information.
Sometimes, it feels invasive.
Tyler Greenwood is an IT professional, so he knows what's going on behind the scenes.
"They're tracking a lot more things that people really think they do." Greenwood, Vice President of Back to Business IT in Beavercreek, said.
They know your name, age, where you live, what you just Googled and what you just ordered online, but that's just scratching the surface.
"In my opinion, if it doesn't creep you out, you're not paying enough attention," Greenwood said.
Whether or not our devices are actually listening is hard to answer.
"When you talk to your phone you say, 'Hey Siri', 'Hey bigsbee', its listening to that, so it wouldn't be too far to make a stretch to think it would be gathering other information as well," Greenwood said. "Does something pop up and say 'Give Facebook access to your microphone and your photos'?"
There's a reason why apps and websites ask you for access: they need your permission to collect and store your information.
"It's a contractual relationship between the consumer and the online provider," Thaddeus Hoffmeister, UD Professor of Law and Social Media, said, "and they're agreeing to adhere to their rules and many of their rules layout what they can do with their information."
Hoffmeister said Facebook is the main player in the online advertising industry.
"There's a reason they're worth 500 billion dollars and they don't charge for their services." he said. "Facebook can tell you precisely how many of those people live in a specific part of town and they can give you direct access to those people which no other medium can."
So, how do they get it? You give them a lot of that information in the About Me section of your profile. The rest is gathered from what you 'like', click on, and search inside or outside of social media.
"Based on your IP address they know your location they put cookies, little text scripts so to speak, that they attach to your profile when you visit their sites they can track you through those." Greenwood said.
The moment you search, two things happen: your browser loads the page, then it sends information to other companies providing content on that site. If that company pays for Facebook's ad services, next thing you know, it's on your feed.
This is how your online experience is customized. Where it cross the line it up to you.
"Right now there's no general federal law to protect privacy," Hoffmeister said.
Greenwood said that one way to control what information is shared about you is to clear the cookies in your browser from time to time. It will delete things in your search history that advertisers need to target their audience. You can also choose to 'opt out' on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
"What it should be doing is telling them, I don't want you to be harvesting data from my experiences or transactions," Greenwood said.
If you're still uncomfortable, you're only other option is to delete you account for good.
"If you’re not giving content to them, they don’t exist," Hoffmeister said.