I’m sick of the internet tracking everything

Each time I visit a European site telling me about cookies – I chuckle to myself.

We’ve moved so far beyond cookies as a tracking mechanism. We’re in far more complex and devious territory.  It’s over 7 years since Google’s Eric Schmidt mentioned getting up to the “creepy line” and not crossing it.

The creepy line is a distant memory now. Browser fingerprinting is well established (check if you can be identified with this method).

In a great essay, Parimal Satyal argues:

I believe we’re slowly replacing a web that empowers with one that restricts and commoditizes people. And why we should, at the very least, stop and think about the consequences of that shift.

Well worth a read.

Creeped out?

In recent years I’ve noticed increasing levels of tracking creepiness.

Even though Facebook denies secret eavesdropping, other technology that’s out there is so uncanny, they might as well be.

Anecdote #1: Pinterest

I have a Pinterest account to share content from a particular site I run. At times items appear in the feed that have nothing do with the subject areas (food, recipes) that I follow. However the items are uncannily close to what other members in my household (on separate devices) had been looking up.

Anecdote #2: Empty Facebook

I setup a facebook account, with an entirely new unique email address (for reasons I won’t go into here), entered no profile data. Only accessed it on an unused browser. It didn’t take long for it to start suggesting groups that were uncannily similar to interests I had – even down to local groups. It’s clear that Facebook buys all the tracking data it can from various data brokers.

Anecdote #3: Cross Browser Google

  1. Searched Google.com for stuff about bitcoin on my primary Firefox browser (logged into google).
  2. Went over to chrome browser (I always keep this cleared out – so an empty cache for testing, never logged in, no cookies). Browse a few sites serving google ads – and whaddya know? Ads for bitcoin traders start appearing.

Cross Device Tracking

Some time ago affiliate network CJ.com started reporting cross-device tracking. Here’s their explanation of how it works:

Cross-Device Tracking leverages industry-leading technology that matches individual customers to their many devices. By combining anonymized first-party data with third-party data and 80 billion daily online interactions, we can develop a persistent consumer ID. […]

Our access to anonymized offline customer data is one of the key differentiating factors

So we’ve all been tagged with a ‘consumer id’. No matter what device we’re on. No surprise. Google started acquiring offline credit and debit card spending earlier this year.

And this is the stuff we know about.

Global Manipulation

Combine machine learning with psychological profiling and we create a beast that’s able to manipulate us on a scale that we could never have imagined. Every time we go online we feed the beast.

Bipolar? About to enter a manic phase? The beast knows, and may well do its best to force that impulsive spending spree that’s about to happen (and profit from it).

In the war for our attention, we are submitting to a new kind of dystopia. Who knows what the consequences are for the communities of the future?

The internet has been good to us in so many ways. Lets not let all discourse, thought, and data accumulate into the hands of a few massive companies.

I feel an unease knowing that I make a living off the internet and am part of the problem. Every ad network I run is part of the problem. The online advertising industry has become so complex, I suspect few even understand what’s going on.

I certainly don’t.

Hi, I'm James, and for the last decade I've made a living by making my own blogs and websites.
Updated: November 15, 2017

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