What’s that? You think your online privacy isn’t at risk? That it hasn’t, in fact, already been hijacked? Are you sure?
Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, says, “The Internet has become a serious threat to our privacy,” and we don’t think Jeff goes far enough with that observation – for most of us, our privacy exists in our imagination and nowhere else.
Here are a few things you might care to ponder:
- Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America, says, “There is no control. What type of information can be collected? How long can they hold on to it? Who can they share it with? No control.”
- Senators John Kerry and John McCain have worked on legislation to limit online tracking. The online giants like Google praise the legislation in public and brief against it where you can’t hear them. Wondering why?
- Internet advertisers are all in favor of their work being regulated – as long as we leave them to do it themselves.
- Mike Zaneis of the Interactive Advertising Bureau: “a precise self-regulatory instrument is a right way to find the balance.” (We put the bold into self-regulatory). What Mike wants is for a program advertisers can opt into that lets them put a button on their ads. Click the button and you’re taken to a website where you can opt out of receiving targeted ads.
- As long as the company sending the ads has registered with the program. And as long as it provides the button. Jeff Chester suggests that the people who make money out of collecting information about you just may not be the best people to protect your privacy. We can see Jeff’s point.
- The Federal Trade Commission says, Mike’s a lovely guy but let’s not do it his way. Let’s have a Do Not Track program that’s instituted by Congress and not advertisers. A good idea, FTC: but it’s been a while, and we don’t see any Do Not Track program just yet.
And here are some sobering numbers:
- The average Google user receives 1,700 banner headlines every month. 1,700! Okay, only about 850 of them are actually viewed, but even 850 a month is 28 every day. That’s an awful lot of advertising you never asked to see.
- 92% of users never or almost never click on an online ad – but that doesn’t stop the ads appearing on 100% of users’ screens.
- Digital advertisers in America spent $60 billion last year, which was 20% higher than the year before. This year is up again. More advertising spend means more ads on your screen.
Just How Do Advertisers Track You Online?
Did you ever wonder about those ads that pop up on your screen?
Of course, you did.
You logged onto a holiday website to get details of hotels in Hawaii, and suddenly you’re being besieged by other holiday companies – and you have never, ever, visited the website of a single one of them. So how did they find out you might want a week in Waikiki Beach?
Simple. That website you looked at had things you could see – and things you couldn’t. The things you couldn’t see can see you because they’re there to track you – what you visit, what your interests are, what you might be interested in buying right now.
It’s more complicated than that, though. The tracking software is placed on your computer – without either your knowledge or your permission – and it transmits what it finds back to the company that put it there.
The company may find it useful to know about your holiday plans, but what they’re most interested in doing is building up a complete profile of you that lists every website you ever visit, everything you buy, everything you make inquiries about buying – and every site that reflects anything about your personal interests. Those people know more about you than your closest friend could ever dream of – and you don’t even know they exist!
What is Canvas Fingerprinting?
They use something called canvas fingerprinting. You might imagine that, because the device you use to surf the net is the same as huge numbers of other people use, yours is impossible to separate from theirs. You’re wrong.
When the hidden code on a website interacts with your device, the way your device reacts and the way your neighbor’s identical device reacts are very slightly different. Different enough that, when the advertiser’s hidden software asks your device to draw a picture for it (which it will draw on the advertiser’s computer and not on yours, so you won’t see it – you won’t even know it exists), your device’s drawing will be unique.
And so it forms a sort of fingerprint. You go to another website – and then another, and another – and you’re recognized each time. You’re tracked, wherever you go.
You think that’s sneaky? Better have a word with President Obama, then, because everybody is doing it and everybody includes the White House’s own website, whitehouse.gov.
InPrivate and Incognito Windows Don’t Help
You thought, if you used Edge’s InPrivate window or Chrome Incognito browsing, you were safe? Not so! You’ve stopped the browser recording where you’re browsing, but your computer or another device is still receiving those “draw me a picture” invitations, and it’s still doing what it’s asked to do.
Cookies: They’re in It Together
You already know that sites you visit leave a cookie on your computer.
Each cookie has a little code that identifies you. Yes, YOU. There may be a whole bunch of companies storing information about cookies they’ve left on your device. And you know what? They share what they know about you.
So your profile is complete. Let’s say you have cookies on your device from a crossword site, five men’s clothing sites, three airlines, five hotel chains, sites that give reviews on Windows 10 laptops, high-end watches, downloadable software, specialist printers, four bookstores (one of which only supplies the kind of literature you wouldn’t want to discuss with your mother. And certainly not with Father O’Malley from Holy Cross Church). Do you see how complete this profile is becoming? And just how much it tells advertisers about you?
Okay. Are Ads Such a Bad Thing?
They’re not all bad, no. A lot of the websites we all like to use depend on ad and Pay-Per-Click revenue to keep going. But there are two issues here:
- Our privacy is being invaded without our knowledge or permission: and
- Too many ads get in the way of the work many of us go onsite to do – and there ARE too many ads.
How to Take Back Your Privacy and Get Rid of Unwanted Ads at the Same Time
- If you haven’t taken care, there are probably a number of unwanted and malicious programs on your device (AdChoices is a common one; there are others). Get rid of them. (You may need help).
- Control the cookies on your website and get rid of the ones you don’t want. But bear in mind that some of the nastier ones store themselves in some places other than the regular cookie jar – and, when you delete the main copy, they simply reinstate it. So take cookie removal seriously.
- Approach Adobe Flash with care. This can be a useful add-on, but it’s a route into your computer for some very persistent and unwanted cookies, and many users find they’re better off without it.
Windscribe – A Powerful Antidote to Privacy Thieves
Windscribe knows that advertisers and data brokers aren’t the only people selling your browsing and purchasing history and your profile to anyone with money to pay for it.
Your ISP is at it, too. Windscribe protects your online privacy by blocking ads and trackers. It also gives you back access to sites that have been blocked. It encrypts everything you transmit and gives you your own IP address, so now you really are incognito. It’s probably the most powerful protection tool available today to anyone who doesn’t work for the National Security Agency – and the good news is that, right now, it’s available at a special one-time sale price.
Protect yourself. And save money while you’re doing it.