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3 things to do now to check up on your data privacy settings


This week, Unroll.Me found itself in an unfriendly spotlight.

Unroll.Me is a free service that bundles subscription emails into a daily digest and helps you weed out other junk that clogs up your inbox. To make money, the company sells anonymized information scraped from its users email accounts. The practice surfaced for many earlier this week after reading a New York Times report on Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick; that article mentioned that Slice Intelligence, which owns Unroll.Me, sold information to Uber about rival company Lyft, based on emailed Lyft ride receipts. The act sounds nefarious, but it's legal and it happens more than you might expect.

"I think the reason that a lot of people were very surprised by this behavior, is that if you go to the main homepage of Unroll.Me, it says this 'is a free service,'" says Jason Hong, an associate professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and an expert on privacy. What it doesn't say, Hong points out, is how they monetize the service, and what they do with your data. For that, of course, you need to read the privacy policy—and who actually does that?

"Allowing companies to access your email, in general, is incredibly risky," he adds.

So what's a privacy-minded internet-user to do? Here are three strategies.

Think about how the app is going to make money off of you

There's an internet adage: "If you're not paying for the product, then the product is you." And that applies to Unroll.Me. "You weren't paying for it directly, but they were figuring out how to monetize your data in some way," says Hong.

When you do pay for a service, on the other hand, it's easier to understand how the company's model works.

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