“Most people do not know they are being tracked, and they aren’t given a choice whether to be tracked or to have their online behavior and personal information shared with large networks of advertisers.” – Nancy King, associate professor of business law, Oregon State UniversityIn my final article about the “hidden” internet I will uncover what most of us probably already know – that we are being watched and profiled, not by a nefarious Big Brother government but by private commercial interests. Our browsing, searching and purchasing habits are being tracked, tabulated and targeted.
Most of us know that “cookies” are placed on our computer hard drives when we visit a web site. These bits of code identify us as return visitors and record what we looked at and how long we dwelled on a particular site. This information is also sent to companies which compile this information and sell it to advertisers to target us for marketing pitches based on our purported interests.
Many of us believe that we can disable or delete cookies, but many sites require them enabled in order to use certain sites. And deleting them is of no protection when the information is passed on to a third party. Beyond cookies there are also “beacons” which run on some of the web sites we browse. Because the Beacons reside on the remote site rather than our hard drives, their information collection activities are beyond our reach or control.
Nancy King quoted above warns that there is little in the way of legal protections over our privacy and even scant less governmental oversight with respect to e-commerce and data collection. It is the Wild West out there and business interests seem limited by only what they can get away with.
In some cases this information can be good, sending information out way that we may not need to search for. But a vast majority of consumers do not realize they are being tracked, who is tracking them and what the information is used for. Recently one of my readers was unaware that their IP address can give away their geographic location. Try for yourself: http://www.ip2location.com/
Laws are scant, having not kept up with new technology. Government wire taping restrictions were written for the times when we all had telephones connected via wires to our homes and offices. It is a Brave New World out there and the laws regarding how technologies have not kept up. (1)Wireless connections themselves can open up more opportunities for surveillance and exploitation.
Unfortunately we cannot look to government to protect our interests with respect to Internet privacy; oversight has been recently undermined by the FCC recently adopting business recommendations allowing businesses to disregard (2)Net Neutrality.
Instead of a rule to protect Internet users' freedom to choose, the Commission has opened the door for broadband payola - letting phone and cable companies charge steep tolls to favor the content and services of a select group of corporate partners, relegating everyone else to the cyber-equivalent of a winding dirt road.~ Timothy KarrRead Nancy King’s full article in the Corvallis Oregon Gazette Times, “A Matter of Privacy”
1. “ Google says mistakenly got wireless data.” – Reuters, May 15, 20102. “Net Neutrality is the freedom of speech, freedom of choice issue of the 21st century. It's the guarantee of a more open and democratic media system that was baked into the Internet at its founding.” ~ Obama FCC Caves on Net Neutrality -- Tuesday Betrayal Assured, Timothy Karr, Huffington Post, December 20, 2010.