Who still carries a sense of privacy online?
If you do, prepare for your bubble to burst.
This is because there are highly effective tracking strategies at play today.
Between fingerprinting and device graphs, people can retrieve a lot of information.
A Brief Primer on Web Browsing
Let’s begin with a basic primer on web browsing:
- First a user starts a device connected to the Internet.
- The user afterward opens a browser and enters a destination.
- The browser then connects to Web servers to retrieve a page.
Any data saved in between sessions is stored in something called a cookie.
When Innovation Takes a Turn for the Worse
Cookies are text files that store information between page visits.
Our problem starts when people use cookie technology to reveal and exploit our:
- Political Leanings
It’s shocking with how little this can easily happen.
How Websites Handle User Data
Websites like Amazon.com, for instance, combine things like system font availability and screen size to form our unique profile.
If you don’t think these profiles can identify a person, think again.
In 2015 MIT researchers found that all it took was two data points to identify 40% of credit card users.
Imagine what they could uncover with information across several websites and devices.
Data in the Wrong Hands Spells Disaster
Consider the case of the 29 year old man who used pictures from social media and Google Maps to stalk a young woman and attack her.
That’s less detail than advertising partners receive from Big Data companies.
Twitter, in fact, recently apologized for using phone numbers for advertising.
It seems that so long as we connect to a service unprotected, our data will be at the mercy of one company or another.
No Honor Even Among Partners
What hope do we have for tech companies like Facebook to ever handle our data ethically?
None since the company paid a $45 million settlement to ad agencies for lying about video viewership on their site.
Provided that Facebook would deceive its partners, we can’t reasonably expect better treatment for users.
If anything we can only rely on their morals to take a serious test when it comes to honesty about their technology.
Becoming the Guinea Pigs of Technologists
Oftentimes we don’t understand how technology companies use our data and that’s fine by them.
Google contractors certainly proved that when they paid homeless black people $5 to scan their face.
Similarly an article on Vox talks about learning websites that use facial recognition technology on students.
It seems that to get the conveniences of technology we must risk inadvertently spilling our every detail.
What Does the Future Hold for User Privacy?
We can expect that in the future our devices will only get better at tracking our life under the premise of simplifying it.
Take the story of a team of scientists who brought a robot to a senior living center in Washington, DC.
Granted, elderly care is a problem in America.
If we decide to let devices take care of our grandparents, however, they will no doubt report back tons of exploitable details.
The Largest Privacy Offenders
Writer Farhad Manjoo recently found that news sites like the New York Times track people the most.
He also mentioned something curious about Google.
Manjoo noticed that Google’s software was present on every webpage he visited for his research.
That’s probably because Google ranks #1 in analytics software with an almost 76% market share.
What We Can Do to Protect Our Privacy
Since now you know there is no privacy online without precaution, here are some websites with great tips:
- 66 Ways to Protect Your Privacy Right Now
- EFF’s Top 12 Ways to Protect Your Online Privacy
- 20 Best Tips to Stay Anonymous and Protect Your Online Privacy
- How to Protect Your Internet Privacy? 13 Tips for 2019
- 8 tips for protecting online privacy and maintaining anonymity
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