Someone is watching every move we make online. That’s because of a growing number of “tracking companies,” which the Wall Street Journal recently said is one of the fastest growing online businesses. What do these tracking companies do? They basically spy on us as we browse the web, keeping track of every site we visit, and compiling information about everything we search for and click on.
For example, we read about a man who used a car dealer’s website to make an appointment to look at new cars. Without his knowledge, the man’s online browsing history was forwarded to a tracking company, which analyzed all the other auto sites he’d been visiting. So, by the time he arrived for his appointment, the dealer already knew what color car the man preferred, and what premium options he was considering!
So, how do these tracking companies know who we are and what we like? First of all, they can compile data from the computer you use, so they know the person looking at cars also looks at baby strollers, for example. Plus, 75% of websites now contain code from our social networks, like Facebook and Twitter.
And experts say that can give tracking companies access to more personal information, like our name, email address, age, and zip code. And that information is valuable to marketers, because it helps them customize the ads that we see when we surf the web. But there are also major privacy concerns because there are cases of tracking companies gaining access to a person’s medical history, for example, and then passing it along to advertisers!
The good news is there are some steps we can take to reduce identity tracking online:
- Before you browse, clear your browser’s “cookies,” and log out of ALL other websites. Because while you’re logged on to sites like Facebook, for example, they have the potential to track any other site you visit, or any page you click the “like” button on.
- Use “disposable” email addresses. That’s the term for email accounts that you ONLY use for one thing. Like an account for online purchases, another for social networks and another for personal messages from friends.
- Try a tracker-blocking service, like Disconnect. It’s specifically designed to block companies from sharing your personal information. To go further, visit disconnect.me.