In Part 1 of this series we talked about Who is selling your information and why. Our subject for today is Dealing with tracking software – one of the ways your personal information is being acquired.
The internet has become an extraordinarily useful tool for finding information of all sorts. However, the internet browser you use is bidirectional. That is, you can readily learn about what you are interested in, but others are also learning about you while you are online.
Internet users are often surprised (even pleasantly so at times) when a site “remembers” the last time a user visited the site and even some of his or her preferences. This is accomplished by websites, or ads running on websites, installing cookies, beacons, and other tracking files on an Internet user’s computer, tablet or smart phone.
Cookies generally perform harmless tasks such as allowing websites to remember user names and passwords for future logins. Some cookies, though, track the websites you visit, and beacons can actually track what you are doing on a website. This can consist of tracking and recording buttons that are clicked, words that are typed, voice searches that are made, etc.
Some tracking files may even record and locate sensitive information such as income, location, medical conditions, etc.
At one time The Wall Street Journal reported that approximately two-thirds of the tracking files employed by the top 50 most visited websites were dispatched by tracking companies that compile Internet users’ personal information into consumer profiles. These profiles are then sold to Internet companies to assist them in developing more personalized web services and advertisements in the best case, and to exploit consumers in the worst.
The Internet may have opened the world to everyone, but it has also literally exposed everyone to the world in ways they never anticipated.
To provide some level of defense against this means of acquiring your information, it would be wise for you to regularly clear your cookies and your browser cache. This process will provide some measure of protection for now, but new methods of tracking online usage and activity may be more difficult to defeat. For example, some companies may begin looking for distinctive computer settings such as installed fonts and time zone details in order to zero in on a user’s identity. It has also been reported that Google and Microsoft are working on new forms of cookie-less identification. So, in the future, it may be wiser to deal with the control and protection of your personal information in an entirely different way. More on that in a future post.
In Part 3, we’ll talk about Protecting your email information with security tools.
Protecting your personal information in an on-line world is a never ending and time consuming, but very necessary process for individual and family safety – especially today