It has been suggested that in the modern era of electronic communication, digital money, and just about everything else reduced to bits and bytes there’s no longer anything resembling personal privacy. There’s a lot of merit to this idea, and not just within the “tinfoil hat” society.
Marketing companies, government agencies at every level, credit agencies have amassed an amazing amount of data on hundreds of millions of people in this country alone, and worldwide well into the billions. In many instances we make it very easy for them. We willingly share our most personal information with complete online strangers.
There are also a number of ways our private information is gathered, often without our direct knowledge, although we’ve agreed to it through some master privacy agreement with our Internet Service Provider (ISP) and the myriad of websites we agree to use.
Surprising Ways you’re Being Tracked Online
Cookies are one of the oldest methods of online tracking. They are very small pieces of information installed on your devices by the websites you visit. They help the websites “remember” who you are when you return, saving you time by not having to identify yourself every time you re-visit.
- Unique Device Identifiers are strings of numbers that uniquely identify one device from another. They can’t be changed or blocked, and they identify your cellular phones, tablet computers, laptops, PDAs, and any other device that has to be uniquely identified. They can also tie personal information to a specific device, giving tracking agents tremendous power.
Everything is Tracked
- Whatever you do online is tracked, primarily for advertising purposes. Whether you’re using a search engine, reading news, or sending a personal email, it’s all sliced, diced, and parsed for keywords used to “personalize” your online experience.
Public outcry recently quashed a couple of internet privacy bills that were gaining steam in Congress. These bills were designed to force ISPs to prevent access to certain websites. Tracking your online usage could easily lead to you being prohibited from seeing the content at certain websites.
- The events of September 11, 2001 led to hysteria and in some instances laws designed to trample your rights. Overzealous lawmakers, ramped up on emotions, used laws like the Patriot Act to allow government agencies to track such things as movie rentals, including online streaming videos, and what you check out at your local public library, particularly if you do it online. All this information is passed along to the intelligence community for them to decide if you’re a threat or not.
A Kids Game
- It’s supposedly illegal to track the online activities of minor children without a parent’s consent, but once that consent is given all bets are off. Children’s websites track as much information as any other website, and if your children are on Facebook or any other popular social media or social networking website, there’s no question their information is already in the hands of marketing and advertising companies.
- Credit applications require you to divulge a great deal of personal information. These include credit cards, auto loans, business loans, and mortgages. All this information is packaged and sold off to other companies looking to cross-sell you on similar or complementary products. This information can include your name, age, birthday, sexual orientation, mother’s maiden name, race, religion, military service, political view, gender, and income. Put this information out on the Internet and who knows where it’s going to wind up!
- The fairy tale starts like this: Once upon a time… stop me if you’ve heard this one. It used to be illegal to intercept electronic communications. With the Patriot Act and the invention of User Agreements, complete with Privacy Policies, your electronic communications, no matter how mundane, can be accessed, legally.
Social networks have complete access to any information you enter at their sites. The more detailed your online profile, the more they automatically know about you. A company like Foursquare even tracks your movement in the real world, providing your movements in something close to real time. Your location is tracked by many websites, which is how they provide you local weather information, sports scores for your local teams, and even shopping deals from stores in your neighborhood.
- The Patriot Act has introduced all manner of legalized tracking and monitoring, including GPS, smart identification cards, and face recognition at places like federal courthouses, airports, and even high profile sporting and social events. All these tactics literally put a face to a name.
Do Not Track
- This last one is not so much a method of tracking as much as it is a warning to you that “do not track” features in your browsers is quite misleading. What it really means is that advertisers are not to target you, specifically. This doesn’t mean they can’t sell your info to their partners, where it’s fair game. “Do Not Track” pretty much just means “track me a little less than you’re tracking the other guys.”
Perhaps it’s just easier to give up, resign yourself to the fact there’s no longer anything resembling personal privacy, and seeing if that doesn’t result in a good night’s sleep. If you’re not quite willing to go that far, then be fully aware that the more information you willingly disclose about yourself online, the more people will have it to do with as they see fit.