Did you know that 60 ad networks may be tracking you right now? And may be selling personally identifiable details about you? The good news: you can opt out of these networks in less than 3 minutes. Here's how.
Forget about privacy?
Online behavior tells a great deal about us: our food likes; the car we drive; our income level; religion; gender; sexual preferences; diseases; job status; and, how many and how old our children are. Traditionally, we've considered much of this information to be no one's business but our own.
But thousands of companies would like to make our business their business. And with the Internet and cookie tracking, they can.
The Wall Street Journal has been running a series on personal data collection by Internet companies. They've proved what many suspected: unchecked data collection is eliminating our traditional zone of privacy.
The WSJ lays out the case of Linda Twombly, a senior citizen in New Hampshire, that it identified from data provided by one ad network, RapLeaf.
The data covered dozens of aspects of her life. The Journal was able to decode 26 of these segments.
Some argue that if we are doing something that we don't want other people to know about, then maybe we shouldn't be doing it. Or that the benefits of advertising that targets our interests outweigh a modest loss of privacy.
But not all personal details are created equal. An interest in radio controlled model aircraft is one thing. The fact that we support legal medical marijuana is very different.
Students of history know that activities acceptable in one decade can invite ridicule or worse in another. In the 1940s the Soviet Union was our ally in World War II. We sent billions of dollars in aid and they bore the brunt of the battle against the Nazi war machine.
But a decade later congressional committees were hounding those suspected of being too sympathetic to the Soviet Union. Careers were destroyed, huge legal bills incurred and lives were disrupted for years.
Does the average Internet user know how much is being collected and who is buying it? Clearly, the answer is no.
Take some control
Commendably, some in online advertising know that they can choose between regulating themselves and being regulated by our democratically elected representatives. The Network Advertising Initiative is a group of over 60 advertising networks that track your Internet behavior.
They'll tell you how many networks are on your system. I was startled to find I had cookies from all but 5.
Enter one of your e-mail addresses, click “select all” and submit. They'll send a confirming e-mail with a link. Click on that and you're done. Enter as many e-mail addresses as you use.
The Storage Bits take
Massive storage and the Internet are wonderful things. But like many other wonderful things they have unintended consequences.
One of those consequences is the loss of personal privacy. In the abstract having advertising targeted to our personal issues and concerns is a good thing.
But should a grandmother surfing the web with her six-year-old grandchild have to answer the question “Grandma, what is herpes?”
The NAI is giving some control back to us. I urge every reader to see what networks are tracking you today. I doubt that plugs every hole in our online privacy. But it's a start.
Comments welcome, of course.