Your Data screengrab - IP address photo

An IP address is a unique identifier used to connect your phone or laptop to the Web. The government or a private lawyer can start with your IP address and determine your name. Or, starting with your name, the government can determine your IP address.Coco Studios

“You are shedding data everywhere,” senior White House adviser John Podesta says in an interview with The New York Times.

The deluge of data that private companies collect on citizens currently knows no bounds. But in a report released Thursday, the White House took a step toward putting limitations on how companies can use the information they gather: “In light of the continuing proliferation of ways to collect and use information about people, PCAST (the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) recommends that policy focus primarily on whether specific uses of information about people affect privacy adversely.”

Spearheaded by Podesta, the report also notes new tracking methods associated with metadata and the rise of social media networks and mobile devices. And it recommends the revival of a “consumer privacy bill of rights” to govern use of consumer data.

According to the Times, “the report was viewed warily in Silicon Valley, where companies see it as the start of a government effort to regulate how they can profit from the data they collect from email and web surfing habits.”

So how exactly are these companies making money from our data?

For those who’ve been following The Center for Investigative Reporting’s surveillance coverage, the knowledge that private companies like Google and others collect and analyze your data comes as no surprise. Our animated feature “Hot on Your Trail” details this everyday process of tracking your information – even when you’re not logged in.

In fact, surveillance is a topic CIR has been investigating for a while – we’ve looked at how the federal government, local agencies and private entities are using it to advance their efforts. And we want to continue doing these kinds of stories to inform the public about how these advancements could affect American civil liberties.

Donate to our new Beacon Reader campaign to support our work on this issue.

Got questions, comments or tips? Get in touch with Julia at or @juliachanb.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Julia B. Chan worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until June, 2017. Julia B. Chan is a producer and the digital editor for Reveal's national public radio program. She’s the voice of Reveal online and manages the production and curation of digital story assets that are sent to more than 200 stations across the country. Previously, Chan helped The Center for Investigative Reporting launch YouTube’s first investigative news channel, The I Files, and led engagement strategies – online and off – for multimedia projects. She oversaw communications, worked to better connect CIR’s work with a bigger audience and developed creative content and collaborations to garner conversation and impact.

Before joining CIR, Chan worked as a Web editor and reporter at the San Francisco Examiner. She managed the newspaper’s digital strategy and orchestrated its first foray into social media and online engagement. A rare San Francisco native, she studied broadcasting at San Francisco State University, focusing on audio production and recording. Chan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.