The Wall Street Journal has recently done a feature on website marketing and tracking and more specifically the information that certain websites share about your profile and habits. While cookies/beacons/trackers are nothing new, their article does shed some light on the extent of the issue and the privacy issues at hand. They also have an awesome infographic on some of the major privacy offenders.
When you visit a website or click on a link you are (possibly) telling a marketing organization a lot about you. Where you live, what you are in the market for and a lot about your demographics.
Recent technologies have allowed marketing companies, so called “data warehousers”, to take this to another level with cross-site information sharing which work together to compile your demographic information and entering the data in massive databases. When you register for a site or indicate a certain preference, there is a chance that the site has a deal with these data harvesters who compile a marketing profile on you.
BlueKai is a large data warehousing company which sells your marketing data to advertisers. One use of BlueKai is to customize advertising depending on your affluence and potential purchases. On the screenshot above, the information in the ‘In Market’ category was frightfully accurate for me.
The site takes information on websites you visit and extrapolates what you might be interested in buying. Looked at some details on a car recently? BlueKai, and other organizations, can figure out that you may be in the market for some new wheels and then target ads based on that preference. Do you want a credit card? BlueKai already knows how much you make and one of their client sites can show you cards which are tailored to your lifestyle.
Through their website you can opt-out of their specific tracker and also specify that a charity will get money “based on advertising dollars gained from your feedback.”
Whether you love them or hate them, there is no denying that Google is one of the biggest warehousers of data. They can offer many services for free because they gather up information on you and then sell that information to advertisers, allowing them to market to you more effectively.
The Google Dashboard allows you to see, in one place, what Google services you use and what Google knows about you. It has been out for a long time but it is still good to review the site every once in a while.
Did you know that 3rd party websites can tell what other websites you have been visiting? For some this is a big meh, but you can tell a lot about a person from what websites they visit. Have you been visiting baby naming websites? Sounds like you are in the market for some new baby products shortly. View Start Panic for a sample of how this privacy leak works.
Panopticlick [No Longer available]
The EFF has this great tool to let you know how ‘unique’ your browser is. Through a combination of browser and plugin versions, screen size, and what fonts you have installed, you are actually very identifiable without even entering any personally identifiable information.
Marketers don’t necessarily care what your name or exact location is, they just want to know that certain data is valid for a unique person.
So what can you do to defend yourself? There are actually a number of options at hand.
Going down the road, and assuming marketers are truthful in saying that they won’t track you, you can ‘opt-out’ of tracking. Google has a tool to opt out of tracking as well as the major marketing brands.
Some other things you can do is to empty your cache and cookie stores on your computer, or have a plugin do it for you. NoScript is a great Firefox plugin that will block cookies from 3rd party sites.
Being a member of a global community on the web innately opens you up to some sort of tracking. However, I think it is good to at least be diligent in minimizing any type of ‘privacy’ invasion by marketers, because it is true when they say that advertising works better on you than you think. After all, they already know where you live.
Image Credit : jeffhall2069