9 Privacy Policy Phrases You Need To Know

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iStock

There’s a reason you’ve been getting a lot of emails recently about updated privacy policies—the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation goes into effect on May 25. The new law requires companies that do business with users within the European Union's 28 countries to be more transparent about how they collect and use customers' information. That means that as a consumer, you should have more control over, or at least be able to better understand, your privacy.

Still, let’s face it—privacy policies are boring. They’re full of legal jargon, they're often complex, and the information they contain likely won’t stop you from using a service you need or purchasing a product you want. Most people don’t even read privacy policies, and research suggests that at least half of us don’t fully grasp their purpose.

While you can’t always know what goes on behind the scenes of a company, you can choose not to engage with a company or service provider if you don’t trust them to keep your information secure. Here’s what to look for in a privacy policy.

1. “INFORMATION WE COLLECT” OR “INFORMATION YOU GIVE US”

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For as long as you've been using the internet, you’ve likely been giving your personal information to dozens of websites that required you to create accounts to access services or make purchases.

This could include everything from your name and date of birth to your social security number. Any data, even information you consider “non-sensitive” (for example, your email address may seem innocuous compared to your credit card numbers) can be used to connect the dots and create a detailed digital profile.

Some of this information you provide actively and voluntarily, but much of it you may not be able to control. For example, Facebook collects information about you from other users. You also give up billing details and data about your connected devices (IP address and geographic location, for example), which you may not realize you are granting Facebook permission to view and use. We unknowingly provide lots of personal information to our internet service providers (ISPs)—and would-be hackers—with many of our regular internet browsing habits.

2. “COOKIES”

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If you want to purchase an item on Amazon, you must create an account, which at the very least requires you to provide your email address. To place an order, you have to enter your credit card number and billing and shipping addresses. According to Amazon’s privacy policy, the company receives and stores “any information you enter on our Web site or give us in any other way.”

If a login isn’t required or you aren’t making a purchase, websites still collect data using cookies—little bits of text that help the site identify you. Cookies are the reason you are targeted with certain ads and can stay logged in as you navigate around a site. While you can disable cookies in your browser, this will limit your ability to fully use many websites.

3. “INFORMATION SECURITY”

A privacy policy should describe how a company stores your personal information, but the language around this is often vague, and you may have to take additional steps to fully secure your data. For example, Facebook says they have “teams of engineers, automated systems, and advanced technology such as encryption and machine learning” and “easy-to-use security tools”—but you have to go to the security help center page to learn how to enable those tools.

Google’s privacy policy states that the company encrypts “many” services using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which protects the connection between your computer and Google’s servers. Google also restricts access to user data to “employees, contractors, and agents...who are subject to strict contractual confidentiality obligations.”

4. “THIRD-PARTY”

This is another vague area in many policies. Facebook and Amazon both share data with a number of third parties, including customer service providers and third-party apps you connect to your Facebook account. Companies may also share non-identifying information—data that cannot be traced back to you as an individual. While third-party sharing should not necessarily stop you from using a website, you should be aware of who else is receiving information about you and whether you can opt out.

Third-party sharing is what Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, calls the “meat and potatoes” of a privacy policy—especially when it comes to sites that promote health or health-related information and products. While some medical data is protected by privacy laws like HIPPA, medical-adjacent information like biometrics, sexual preference, specific income, and even purchase history can be dangerous when released to third parties or data brokers.

“Medical-related information is prized,” she says. “Any kind of health-related data can be used to make important decisions about our lives.”

5. “AFFILIATED BUSINESSES”

Facebook.com isn’t the only website owned by the bigger Facebook company, which may share your data with WhatsApp and several other platforms that the larger company also owns. Many companies provide your personal information to affiliated businesses—Amazon works with Marketplace sellers and companies like Starbucks and Verizon, for example. While this isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, Dixon says that, like with third-party sharing, you should scan for where and how your data is being shared or combined and have the chance to opt out.

6. “COMBINE DATA” or “DATA BROKER”

Data brokers collect, compile, and sell personal information—from your name and email address to the websites you visit and your search history. Companies purchase this data to create a more complete profile about you, which is then used to target you with specific products or services or even determine how much your health insurance should cost. Dixon says this can have consequences on everything from education to employment opportunities and opens the door for your information to be compromised in data breaches.

If you come across language in a privacy policy along the lines of “learning more about you and your interests,” read carefully. It may not be obvious or explicit when a company works with data brokers, so it’s important that you ask this specific question.

7. “OPT IN” VS. “OPT OUT”—“WHAT CHOICES DO I HAVE?”

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Check privacy policies for how much control you have over your own information. Many will have sections that outline what choices you have and how you can opt in to or out of certain data collection and sharing practices, similar to opting out of email communication.

For example, Amazon’s policy includes a link to update your user communication and advertising preferences, but it does acknowledge that you can’t access, update, or delete everything and notes that the company keeps copies of prior data even after you make changes. Google requires users to opt in to any sharing of sensitive personal information and allows you to opt out of advertising services, choose what data is saved in your account, and remove some information from Google services.

Following the Cambridge Analytica controversy, Facebook recently announced that it is updating its data policies to give users more opportunities to actively choose how their data is collected, stored, and shared.

8. “DELETE”

Another important thing to ask: What happens to my information over time? Facebook stores your data for “as long as necessary” to provide you with products and services, but information will be deleted once you delete your account. Even if you get rid of certain accounts, however, your data may live on a company’s servers for longer. For example, Google’s policy says that they may not “immediately delete residual copies” or remove information from backup servers.

9. "CONTACT US"

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Companies should offer a way to get in touch. In fact, Dixon recommends reaching out to companies directly and asking these questions about their privacy practices. As a consumer, you have the right to understand how your personal information is used as well as the right to opt out of any data sharing—and now is the time to demand that companies collect and secure our data responsibly.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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Update Your Tech While These 10 Apple Products Are on Sale

Apple
Apple

If the announcement of another new iPhone release has you feeling even more outdated than you already did, it might finally be time to upgrade your tech. Check out 10 refurbished Apple products that will outdo your old devices without the hefty price tag.

1. Apple iPad Pro 9.7 (128gb, Refurbished); $425 (29 Percent Off)

This refurbished iPad Pro makes it easier than ever to binge an entire season of The Office in one sitting, thanks to its 10 hours of battery life.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

2. Apple iPad Mini 4, 64gb - Space Gray (Refurbished // Wi-Fi Only); $295 (40 Percent Off)

Apple

This compact iPad is the perfect match for browsing at home or storing your favorite apps and media. It even doubles as an 8-megapixel camera with face detection, video stabilizing, and more.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

3. Apple iPad Air 2 (23GB, Refurbished); $259 (35% Off)

The super-thin iPad Air sports all the features you'd expect out of a much larger tablet without any of the bulkiness. Take high-quality photos, download your favorite movies, and much more.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

4. Apple EarPods With Remote And Microphone; $14.99 (54 Percent Off)

Apple

These Apple EarPods keep a secure grip in your ear so they’ll stay put with every bounce, twirl, and pas de bourrée you may experience while listening to your favorite music.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

5. Apple Lightning to USB Cable (Three-Pack); $29.99

Apple

Most Apple products come with charging accessories, but one usually isn’t enough. If you need a spare for the car, the office, or three different rooms of the house, this pack has you covered.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

6. Apple Macbook Air 11 and Core i5, 4GB Ram 128GB SSD (Refurbished); $559 (6 Percent Off)

Apple

A laptop’s primary function is to work in remote places, which is why the impressive nine-hour battery life of this Apple MacBook Air makes it the perfect machine. This model features the Intel Core i5 processor, Intel Turbo Boost Technology, and Intel HD Graphics 6000, so you're sure to get high-quality performance.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

7. Three-In-One Apple Device Charging Station; $67.99 (13 Percent Off)

Oakywood.

Cut your cords and charge your modern devices with a modern aesthetic. This triple dock for iPhone, AirPods, and Apple Watch will keep your desk or nightstand organized while you charge up.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

8. Apple Magic Keyboard With Numeric Keypad (Certified Refurbished); $99.99 (23 Percent Off)

Apple

Wires on your desk are so 2005. Get modern with a refurbished Apple Magic Keyboard. You won’t miss any functionality when you cut the cord because this refurbished model has all of the features you’d expect.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

9. Apple 5w Wall Charger Adapter Cube Three-Pack; $16.99 (19 Percent Off)

Apple

Never ask to borrow a charger again when you have these adapter cube back-ups. Store one in several rooms of the house, or keep one at work and two at home. They’ll charge everything from your iPad to iPhone.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

10. Apple iPad Mini Three, 64GB (Refurbished); $259 (13 Percent Off)

Apple

This compact iPad has an A7 processor, 1GB RAM, and 64 GB storage for enough power to browse, game, and work wherever you tote it.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

Prices subject to change.

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