A new study from a Stanford University researcher has found that a lot of the little bits and pieces of supposedly anonymous data being deposited by your web browser are actually being gathered and reassembled by dozens of companies and sold. And stopping that from happening takes more than a little bit of effort, helped by a growing movement for “do not track” legislation.
It saddens me (seriously) that many folks I know don’t know that they’re being tracked, and nearly all of them say they don’t care after being told. And most of the ones that DO care about being tracked online just can’t be bothered to take simple measures to stop the tracking from happening, even though it barely impacts their internet browsing.
So here’s what I do to limit the online tracking as much as possible:
I use the Firefox browser with certain key add-ons to guarantee privacy (as much as possible, anyway) and practically zero online tracking:
To stop Facebook from tracking my movements across the web, I use Facebook only with the Opera browser on all my computers, and I limit the links I click on within Facebook. If there’s a link I really want to check out, I’ll copy the link address (right-click and choose ‘copy link location’) and paste it into Firefox.
So why go through all this effort?
As a small constrained example, if you cross reference your real name from Facebook with every Facebook Like button you get a list of web pages that the person has visited. That’s incredibly sensitive information and given the cross-borders aspect there are no laws whatsoever preventing this information being sold. It’s a highly valuable gold mine.
Google have even more personal data but rarely get flak like Facebook does. Through Google+, Gmail and the AdWords/DoubleClick trackers around the web they get to see almost everything you do online.
Now, forgive me for not being a good customer, but screw that. I don’t want my information (even anonymously) connected to other bits of information. I encrypt/block/hide what I can and screw the marketers who want to sell/use this information.
On a somewhat related note, the German government has been found to have spread spyware among its citizens so it could spy on them, something the FBI tried several years ago. So it’s always worth the effort to protect yourself online!