- EFF highlights the fact that the “big tech” is tracking us everywhere but tries to hide it.
- Almost all websites out there hide tracking code and embedded images that collect data for third parties.
- Legislators are failing us, but there are some things that we can do to protect our privacy.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has released a detailed report which analyzes how the “big tech” is tracking users around the net. The report is entitled “Behind the One-Way Mirror”, and is unveiling numerous tracking techniques, both common and unusual. The list includes the giants Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter, but hundreds of smaller-size entities are also involved in this tracking and data collection scheme. The main goal of the report is to expose the specific ways through which our data privacy is compromised, raising awareness and hopefully leading to more stringent regulations.
The unethical side of the user tracking that goes on is the “hidden aspect”. Most of the websites that we visit daily contain what would seem to be “bugs”, which are code snippets and embedded images that actually belong to data brokers. This code goes unnoticed as it doesn’t serve anything in the functionality of the visited website. What it does is to track and record our browsing activity, the clicks we make, and the purchases we do. Combining data from our global online activity, these companies can formulate our profiles and enrich them with sensitive personal data such as our race, ethnicity, sexual identity, religious beliefs, political affiliation, income level, education level, physical and mental health, and anything else that constitutes or underpins who we are.
All of this data-collection process is entirely unregulated, and the tech giants don’t face any consequences for tracking people without asking for their specific consent. In the end, it’s all done for targeted behavioral advertising. The more accurate the data they collect, the better their guesses about what we need to get. We realize this process when specifically-themed ads follow us everywhere we go online, feeling that our privacy has been invaded.
So, besides waiting for the authorities to take real steps that protect our data and the courts to implement the existing legislation, what else can we do? Getting around online tracking is a difficult feat, but browsers today offer the capacity to identify and block trackers. That said, you should activate the relevant setting on your browser. Other than that, you may install EFF’s “Privacy Badger” extension, which promises to automatically block invisible trackers. To confuse the trackers, you may use websites like “track this” and feed the advertisers with data that have nothing to do with your real-life and preferences. Finally, using a VPN product helps you mask some of the identifiers used by data brokers to associate your activity with your unique profile.