Web Tracking

There is something twisted about the public being used for marketing purposes in their every day lives. We do this all the time when we wear branded clothing. Granted, there are lots of people who want to show the world that they are wearing designer clothing. On the other hand, many of us don’t like the idea of shelling out $45 for a Nike running shirt and having to advertise for their company while wearing it.

The internet and web are no different when it comes to public marketing. When people sign up for a service such as Facebook, they are agreeing to have their (once) private data used for the commercial benefit of companies. In particular, I found Facebook’s privacy statements to be far too onerous and even outrageous, and decided to delete my account last year. In particular, I think it is outrageous that public photos posted on Facebook immediately hands the rights of the photos over to Facebook. I also learned that Facebook places a tracking cookie on computers that tracks web traffic even if you are logged off of Facebook. I first heard about this on CBC and confirmed it myself.

A friends of mine pointed out that it was hypocritical of me to treat Facebook as my only privacy concern, when other services such as Google do similar things.  They were right, although my argument at the time was that at least Google doesn’t hide their marketing and advertising machinations. That, and I found Google’s services to be really useful.

Having just read an article by Janet Vertesi, a prof at Princeton who recently broke up with Google, I’m now tyring to scale back my use of google as well.  The obvious first step was to replace Google’s search engine with something that doesn’t track my useage.  Duck Duck Go seems to fit the bill (ha ha) quite nicely.  Next steps would be to move my online videos from youtube to Vimeo, and stop using Google Drive (which I dislike and don’t use much).  However, google plays an important part in my mobile computing right now because I use their cloud services for syncing my contacts and calendar across devices.  I’ve thought about replacing some of these cloud services with Microsoft’s but I’m not sure that’s an improvement.  If MS collected data for only their internal sales, that would be a step in the right direction though. But if they’re selling data to companies then it would be no better.

The other thing that I learned about in this process is that we can turn off data tracking in our web browsers, by way of the “do not track” initiative.  To learn how to enable Do Not Track on your web browser, see this link.

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