You Are Not Paranoid – Advertising Trackers Are After You

On both sides of the Atlantic, Google and Facebook are facing a backlash from privacy-sensitive consumers and from regulators.  “By a ratio of more than 6 to 1, U.S. online consumers are unwilling to trade their personal data, even anonymously, for the sake of being served ads that online advertisers think are more relevant to them.”

In the US, 85% of the public opposes using internet advertising trackers.  Peeved by the  advertising industry’s behavior, 81.2 percent of European Union citizens agreed that obligations should be imposed on manufacturers of terminal equipment to market products with privacy-by-default settings activated, i.e., in the do-not-track setting.

The European Commission told the advertising industry that consumers should be given more control to allow or prevent websites from using cookies to track them, in line with the degree of “privacy risks.“  In a veiled threat, the EU also mentioned that “if lots of users reject third-party cookies, it becomes more difficult for advertising promoters to obtain tracking consent.”  EU regulation might block third-party cookies, undermining trackers’ operations.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had similar complaints.  The FTC warned advertisers to cease tracking consumers across multiple devices, and it complained that “consumers still do not have adequate means to opt out of data collection.”

We have lost patience with adverts, captured by trackers, that use our private information.  When you request that tracking be blocked, the aggressive pushback by some websites can severely limit your browsing, and may persuade you, unwisely, to leave trackers in place.

Here is what happens if you neglect to halt tracking.

As consumers, one of our core concerns is the protection of private information from unauthorized dissemination.  Internet advert trackers are the top culprits.  They lurk in websites and collect your private information and browsing behavior.  In effect, they sell that information to advertisers who start a firehose of promotional materials aimed directly at you.

An extensive collection of your private information is stored on advert promoters’ sites.  It can be stolen by cyber thieves, exposing you to theft of your identity and financial assets.  This is no abstract risk.  Millions of consumers have been victimized by cyber criminals who steal private information from commercial databases including Google, Facebook, and others.

Trackers also slow you down and use resources that you pay for, even though you would never think of subsidizing their invasive operations.  The advertising tracker in websites that you visit uses your computer time to identify you and analyze the conventional cookies (or “Apple iOS’s Identifiers for Advertisers (“IDFA”), or Google Android’s Advertising ID”) to monitor applications used on your smartphone or computer.  It then reports back to its advertising homesite on where you have been browsing and what it has deduced.  Using that and its databases entries on you, the tracker system then starts downloading adverts that it picks for you.

The adverts downloaded by the tracking system use your computer’s time and the internet access bandwidth that you pay for.  While working on tasks for the tracker, your computer and internet connection are not working on your tasks, and consequently everything worthwhile runs slower.  When the trackers send a bloated advertising payload, your computer screen may slide up and down, and sometimes it may freeze up.  If there were a way to charge trackers for the waste of your resources and more importantly, for your productive time, they would not stay in business.  In effect, they live off your involuntary charity.

Computer resources are diverted in the 76% of websites that contain hidden Google trackers.  The advert downloads are especially disruptive because they are typically high impact pictures and video files that use much more bandwidth (i.e. take a lot more time) than text.

An individual tracker behaves like a paparazzi.  It lurks around waiting for you to show up, then it notes the location and context, records your browsing history against your will, and sends the information to its headquarters for storing and processing.  When you move on, the tracker in the next website notes the location and context, records your browsing history against your will, and sends the information to its headquarters, again for storing and processing.

Yes, the tracker shakedown is always the same.  It’s the trackers’ persistent piercing of your privacy that qualifies them as stalkers.  With luck, there’s a law against digital stalking.

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