Opt-Out or Stay In? Whatever You Choose, Make Sure It’s Your Choice

 

We know you’re probably sick of hearing about PRISM and how all those “privacy” settings stopped being helpful after the NSA came in. Honestly, we are too, and we think it’s about time we figure out a way to start taking some control back.

A few days ago, Forbes published this article about the ethics of digital marketing and the rampant use of browser tracking — a practice that involves the “tracking” of web browsers from one site to the next through technology such as cookies or digital “fingerprinting” (reading and identifying a web browser’s unique characteristics). From a marketer’s perspective, this behavior is an unquestioned right, the “ethics”  behind it be damned; the data is there, and they want to learn from your behavior to sell you more things. From a user’s perspective, though, it’s an altogether different story, especially given the fact that, more often than not, most web users don’t even know they’re being tracked!

In the Forbes article, they tell us to imagine the following scenario:

You walk into a store at a mall and then leave. A store employee follows you out the door, pen and pad in hand, and jots down where you go next. Perhaps the clerk notes that you have gone to a rival store and are in the swimwear section. After you leave that store, the original employee follows you and a new clerk from the second store also begins to trail you.

Now, Forbes doesn’t go on to say anything about how, if you ever had this happen to you in real life the non-digital world, you’d probably be a little creeped out and a lot bothered by store employees following you around and tracking your movements. What they really fail to emphasize, though, is that you’re not just being followed if you’re one of the users who’s unaware of what’s what — you’re basically being stalked, and—depending on your browsing history—you’re being stalked by a ton of companies. Plus, this kind of behavior isn’t restricted to just company websites. If you use social sharing from a widespread widget called “AddThis,” they can also track your browsing behavior, although apparently at a “macro,” trend level. Currently, AddThis reports that they’re used on 14 million sites and reaches 1.3 billion users monthly. Fortunately, AddThis provides an opt-out feature that basically gives your computer a good cookie that tells AddThis to not track your browsing history.

Ultimately, we can’t change government policies for you, and we can’t take on all of the Internet’s privacy issues in one go. We can, however,  try to help out in other ways, like keeping you informed and making sure that we give you the power for you to make your own choices about your privacy — even if it is short of revoking PRISM’s permissions to your profiles.

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