Do you ever notice ads that seem to follow you as you visit different websites? This may happen because the websites many of us use are constantly collecting our information and browsing behavior. Like millions of other people, you have probably (unknowingly) allowed websites and their advertising providers to track and share your online activity. When you accept a website’s terms and conditions by clicking on the “I Agree” button, you may be granting the site permission to place trackers and cookies in your browser.
Information about you, such as your location or your purchase or search history, has value – just like money. Your search history says a lot about you, how much money you make and how educated you are. It’s important to be thoughtful about who gets this information and how it’s collected through apps and websites.
How does tracking affect you as a consumer?
When businesses share your personal data, you only see what the website wants you to, including targeted content, pre-selected products, demand based pricing, etc. We are inclined to think targeting is good, since we are shown products that we are interested in but that is not necessarily how it works. Imagine if all the products that you are shown are the most expensive ones just because you once splurged on something pricey. Additionally, many of us make health-related inquiries or purchases online that could reveal information we don’t want to share.
Many people may not be bothered by some of their information being collected in online transactions, but according to a recent NCSA/Zogby Consumer survey, 77 percent of Americans feel it is “extremely” or “very” important that companies have easy-to-understand, accessible information about what personal data is collected about them, how it is used and with whom it is shared.
There is also a philosophic argument of “ownership” to consider – Internet users own not only their generally accepted personal identity information such as their name, age and Social Security number, but they should also be able to manage their privacy and the online information they generate through their search, browsing and buying activities.
A recent Pew Research survey indicates 9 out 10 Americans feel they have lost control over how companies collect and use their data. The same survey indicates that 93 percent of the respondents want to take control of their online privacy including who views and collects their data and guarding against “e-stalking” by untrusted sites or data brokers.
How can consumers manage their privacy when it comes to online tracking?
Some techniques that a consumer could use to stop being tracked include:
- Block tracking on an untrusted site by opting out: the first thing you could do is to differentiate between sites you trust with your information, such as your bank or broker and non-trusted sites. Then, check out the privacy policies of the untrusted sites that you regularly use to determine how those sites collect, manage and use your data.
- Set your browser to block third-party cookies: set your browser to reject third-party cookies and frequently delete cookies from your device. Why share your personal information with a site other than the one you’re browsing?
- Consider using private browsing or ad blockers: some browsers have incognito modes to keep your browsing activity private. Additionally, some consumers deploy ad blockers to block ads and their trackers.
- Use available technology to own your online presence: check your privacy settings on the devices, websites and apps you use, and consider anti-tracking and/or private search services to help you manage your digital presence like PrivatizeMe.
As Data Privacy Day nears, it’s a good time to check in with your online presence and take steps to protect your personal information and manage your privacy. For more information about Data Privacy Day and how you can get involved, visit staysafeonline.org/dpd.
About the Author
Ajit Pendse is the CEO of PrivatizeMe, LLC. He is a seasoned entrepreneur and innovator who has turned Internet/computing/communication technology concepts into viable products and companies. His experience includes leading startups with successful exits, restructuring companies, and business development with Fortune Global 100 companies. A prolific inventor, Pendse has more than 12 patents in data security, the Internet of Things (IoT), health technology, VoIP and communications areas. PrivatizeMe provides safe browsing technology that enables users to browse and search free from trackers, cookies, and cyber stalkers – for free. For more information, visit https://privatizeme.com.