Somebody Is Watching You: Imagine that there is someone following behind you day and night, watching and writing everything you do into his notebook. Now, imagine that his cohort is doing the same thing to your spouse. But it doesn’t stop there, they are also following your children. They take their information and report it to their boss. Seems pretty creepy, right? Because it is.
Big Tech Advertising: That scenario is played out every time you browse the internet, shop online, or use social media. Your activity is being monitored and tracked by the big tech companies like Google and Facebook. Have you ever wondered how Google could afford to give you free email when 20 years ago it was expensive? Or how Facebook can provide their platform for free? They can afford to do that because you, the user, are the product. They are selling your information for targeted advertising. They are getting rich by selling the browsing habits of their users or by tracking what you like or don’t like on social media or the types of videos you watch.
Eye Opening Ted Talk: In recent years, there has been increasingly louder outcries from the public once the digital stalking has been made public. In his TED Talk, Gary Kovacs used a tool in his FireFox browser called Collusion that creates a map of the different organizations that are tracking your activity. After hitting only four websites, there were 25 different trackers. On a typical day this number grew above 150. There is a plugin for Chrome and Edge called Ghostery that alerts you of the number of trackers attached to your session for each site. It also allows you to block them. Social media sites are known for having more trackers associated as compared to other sites.
Cookie Replacement: There is a push to remove these tracking files called cookies to give users more privacy. Advertisers were concerned about possibly losing this venue for targeted marketing. Google, however, has stepped in to create a new anonymous online identifier to replace cookies called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). FLoC uses your browsing history from the past week to assign you to a group, a FLoC ID, with other “similar” people around the world. Google sells access to these FLoC IDs as long as the advertisers agree to basic guidelines, which would aim to deliver users greater privacy and control over how they browse the web. This methods still contains many of the same privacy and possible discrimination issues that cookies have.
Defensive Tools: You are not alone or defenseless in this attack against your privacy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a privacy advocate for the people. They have created a browser extension called Privacy Badger that works on FireFox and Chrome. It monitors third parties and ad networks that try to track you through cookies and digital fingerprinting and can even auto-block them. Another thing you can do to protect your privacy is to change your search engine. Google, Yahoo, and Bing all collect your information to “personalize” your experience. Instead use search engines designed for privacy in mind like DuckDuckGo, Qwant, and Startpage. If you want to go all out, you can use a relatively new browser called Brave that blocks ads and trackers. For complete privacy with end-to-end encryption for your messaging and phone calls, we recommend an application for both phones and computers called Signal.
Regain Your Privacy: It is time to get that stalker off of your back and regain your privacy. Check out Ghostery, Privacy Badger, DuckDuckGo and Brave while enjoying your online experience without being tracked.