What Kind of Data Do Companies Collect?

Companies collect a mindblowing amount of data about users, even types of data you might've thought it's impossible.

If you think that any of the activities you do online is private, I'm sorry to break it out to you but that's not the case.

Each time you connect to the internet, the information about what you're browsing online, what you're clicking on, what you purchase, what device you're using, where you're connecting from - everything - it's stored somewhere on a company's server.

The amount of data companies have on users is mindblowing.

You might be aware that some pieces of information are available for companies to grab, such as the personal data on your Facebook profile or how your browsing behavior is tracked by Google. But you might not realize exactly how much data is collected about you and how detailed the profiles companies build of users are.

So let's see in more detail what kind of personal data is collected by companies while you're casually browsing the internet.

What is personal data?

The term of personal data is an umbrella term that refers to many types of information. The name is quite suggestive, implying it is about all the data that relates to you personally. This data includes:

  • sensitive information (e.g. social security number, health records, banking details) - this type of information is not really used by companies, but are the types of information hackers are looking for.
  • revealing information (e.g. location information, browsing history, social media posts) - this data is monetized by companies.
  • other types of data - companies can gather and analyze data you might not even expect, such as the way you tab on your device screen.

Users might or might not be aware that these types of data are being collected. Sometimes, the specifics of the data being collected is either hidden or well buried in the terms of service agreement. Most users are also not aware of the fact that an app that pulls data about location, for example, might also further sell this data to third parties.

Short history of personal data collection

Humans have been collecting and processing data since the beginning of technology. The Antikythera mechanism was the first "computer" designed by the Greek scientists in 150 BC. It was a complex system of gears that was used to track astrological positions. In the late 1880s, the tabulating machine was invented by Herman Hollerith, designed to assist in summarizing information stored on punched cards. In the '60s, the US government was already using computers to store data on almost every American, so were corporations that started analyzing data about purchasing habits. At this point, there were no laws to restrict data collection. But something changed when the book The Naked Society by Vance Packard was published in 1964, shading light on how technology is affecting privacy.

Fast forward to this day, technology is heavily used by companies to freely collect data, receiving users' consent. Big Data has become one of the biggest markets of our age.

Who collects personal data?

There's a huge and profitable market around data collection. Users receive free services in return for their personal data that will be further monetized. Think about Facebook and Google. They provide a wide range of services for free. In exchange, they are allowed to collect personal data from users using their services. Then they take big money from advertising companies for targeted ads.

List of data companies collect

There is a lot of data that's being collected while you're browsing online. Some of this data you might expect to be gathered such as name, location, email address, or age. But you might not expect that companies go to some extent lengths to collect all the details about you that they can. Here is a list of data that's collected provided by Quartz.


  • Name
  • Previously Used Names
  • Address
  • Address History
  • Longitude and Latitude
  • Phone Numbers
  • Email Address
  • Social Security Number
  • Driver’s License Number
  • Birth Date
  • Birth Dates of Each Child in Household
  • Birth Date of Family Members in Household


  • Age
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Gender
  • Race & Ethnicity
  • Country of Origin
  • Religion (by Surname at the Household Level)
  • Language
  • Marital Status
  • Presence of Elderly Parent
  • Presence of Children in Household
  • Education Level
  • Occupation
  • Family Ties
  • Demographic Characteristics of Family Members in Household
  • Number of Surnames in Household
  • Veteran in Household
  • Grandparent in House
  • Spanish Speaker
  • Foreign Language Household (e.g., Russian, Hindi, Tagalog, Cantonese)
  • Households with a Householder who is Hispanic Origin or Latino
  • Employed – White Collar Occupation
  • Employed – Blue Collar Occupation
  • Work at Home Flag
  • Length of Residence
  • Household Size
  • Congressional District
  • Single Parent with Children
  • Ethnic and Religious Affiliations


  • Bankruptcies
  • Criminal Offenses and Convictions
  • Judgments
  • Liens
  • Marriage Licenses
  • State Licenses and Registrations (e.g. Hunting, Fishing, Professional)
  • Voting Registration and Party Identification


  • Electronics Purchases
  • Friend Connections
  • Internet Connection Type
  • Internet Provider
  • Level of Usage
  • Heavy Facebook User
  • Heavy Twitter User
  • Twitter User with 250+ Friends
  • Is a Member of over 5 Social Networks
  • Online Influence
  • Operating System
  • Software Purchases
  • Type of Media Posted
  • Uploaded Pictures
  • Use of Long Distance Calling Services
  • Presence of Computer Owner
  • Use of Mobile Devices
  • Social Media and Internet Accounts including Digg, Facebook, Flickr, Flixster, Friendster, hi5, Hotmail, LinkedIn, Live Journal, MySpace, Twitter, Amazon, Bebo, CafeMom, DailyMotion, Match, myYearbook, NBA.com, Pandora, Photobucket, WordPress, and Yahoo


  • Census Tract Data
  • Address Coded as Public/Government Housing
  • Dwelling Type
  • Heating and Cooling
  • Home Equity
  • Home Loan Amount and Interest Rate
  • Home Size
  • Lender Type
  • Length of Residence
  • Listing Price
  • Market Value
  • Move Date
  • Neighborhood Criminal, Demographic, and Business Data
  • Number of Baths
  • Number of Rooms
  • Number of Units
  • Presence of Fireplace
  • Presence of Garage
  • Presence of Home Pool
  • Rent Price
  • Type of Owner
  • Type of Roof
  • Year Built


  • Apparel Preferences
  • Attendance at Sporting Events
  • Charitable Giving
  • Gambling – Casinos
  • Gambling – State Lotteries
  • Thrifty Elders
  • Life Events (e.g., Retirement, Newlywed, Expectant Parent)
  • Magazine and Catalog Subscriptions
  • Media Channels Used
  • Participation in Outdoor Activities (e.g., Golf, Motorcycling, Skiing, Camping)
  • Participation in Sweepstakes or Contests
  • Pets
  • Dog Owner
  • Political Leanings
  • Assimilation Code
  • Preferred Celebrities
  • Preferred Movie Genres
  • Preferred Music Genres
  • Reading and Listening Preferences
  • Donor (e.g., Religious, Political, Health Causes)
  • Financial Newsletter Subscriber
  • Upscale Retail Card Holder
  • Affluent Baby Boomer
  • Working-Class Moms
  • Working Woman
  • African-American Professional
  • Membership Clubs – Self-Help
  • Membership Clubs – Wines
  • Exercise – Sporty Living
  • Winter Activity Enthusiast
  • Participant – Motorcycling
  • Outdoor/Hunting & Shooting
  • Biker/Hell’s Angels
  • Santa Fe/Native American Lifestyle
  • New Age/Organic Lifestyle
  • Is a Member of over 5 Shopping Sites
  • Media Channel Usage – Daytime TV
  • Bible Lifestyle
  • Leans Left
  • Political Conservative
  • Political Liberal
  • Activism & Social Issues
  • Ability to Afford Products
  • Credit Card User
  • Presence of Gold or Platinum Card
  • Credit Worthiness
  • Recent Mortgage Borrower
  • Pennywise Mortgagee
  • Financially Challenged
  • Owns Stocks or Bonds
  • Investment Interests
  • Discretionary Income Level
  • Credit Active
  • Credit Relationship with Financial or Loan Company
  • Credit Relationship with Low-End Standalone Department Store
  • Number of Investment Properties Owned
  • Estimated Income
  • Life Insurance
  • Loans
  • Net Worth Indicator
  • Underbanked Indicator
  • Tax Return Transcripts
  • Type of Credit Cards


  • Brand Preferences
  • Insurance Renewal
  • Make & Model
  • Vehicles Owned
  • Vehicle Identification Numbers
  • Vehicle Value Index
  • Propensity to Purchase a New or Used Vehicle
  • Propensity to Purchase a Particular Vehicle Type (e.g., SUV, Coupe, Sedan)
  • Motor Cycle Owner (e.g., Harley, Off-Road Trail Bike)
  • Motor Cycle Purchased 0-6 Months Ago
  • Boat Owner
  • Purchase Date
  • Purchase Information
  • Intend to Purchase – Vehicle


  • Read Books or Magazines About Travel
  • Travel Purchase – Highest Price Paid
  • Date of Last Travel Purchase
  • Air Services – Frequent Flyer
  • Vacation Property
  • Vacation Type (e.g., Casino, Time Share, Cruises, RV)
  • Cruises Booked
  • Preferred Vacation Destination
  • Preferred Airline


  • Amount Spent on Goods
  • Buying Activity
  • Method of Payment
  • Number of Orders
  • Buying Channel Preference (e.g., Internet, Mail, Phone)
  • Types of Purchases
  • Military Memorabilia/Weaponry
  • Shooting Games
  • Guns and Ammunition
  • Christian Religious Products
  • Jewish Holidays/Judaica Gifts
  • Kwanzaa/African-Americana Gifts
  • Type of Entertainment Purchased
  • Type of Food Purchased
  • Average Days Between Orders
  • Last Online Order Date
  • Last Offline Order Date
  • Online Orders $500-$999.99 Range
  • Offline Orders $1000+ Range
  • Number of Orders – Low-Scale Catalogs
  • Number of Orders – High-Scale Catalogs
  • Retail Purchases – Most Frequent Category
  • Mail Order Responder – Insurance
  • Mailability Score
  • Dollars – Apparel – Women’s Plus Sizes
  • Dollars – Apparel – Men’s Big & Tall
  • Books – Mind & Body/Self-Help
  • Internet Shopper
  • Novelty Elvis


  • Ailment and Prescription Online Search Propensity
  • Propensity to Order Prescriptions by Mail
  • Smoker in Household
  • Tobacco Usage
  • Over the Counter Drug Purchases
  • Geriatric Supplies
  • Use of Corrective Lenses or Contacts
  • Allergy Sufferer
  • Have an Individual Health Insurance Plan
  • Buy Disability Insurance
  • Buy Supplemental to Medicare/Medicaid
  • Individual Insurance
  • Brand Name Medicine Preference
  • Magazines – Health
  • Weight Loss & Supplements
  • Purchase History or Reported Interest in Health Topics including: Allergies, Arthritis, Medicine Preferences, Cholesterol, Diabetes, Dieting, Body Shaping, Alternative Medicine, Beauty/Physical Enhancement, Disabilities, Homeopathic Remedies, Organic Focus, Orthopedics, and Senior Needs


Big companies collect a vast amount of different types of data. This collected data includes name, phone number, email address, locations, birth date, age, gender, devices used, operating system, language, internet provider, friend connections, profile information, uploaded media, likes, shares, browsing history, types of purchases, buying activity.

To completely escape data collection is a really challenging business. But there are ways to limit the amount of data companies can track if you want a more private online experience.

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