The Internet is like your nosy neighbor that tries to peer into what is going on. Only your neighbor might experience a memory lapse after a point in time, yet the Internet tracks and mines your online activity.
Google is able to combine user data across its services, including search, YouTube, Google+, Gmail and Google Docs. Allowing companies to understand what we do, what we search and what we buy, helps corporations make a profit by analyzing and recording our actions. But how do users benefit from this? Are they reaping a percentage of the profit companies are generating from mining online personal data? Unfortunately no. All the user receives are benefits in the form of tailored services, such as recommendations based on past search results.
Facebook is another example of a company that manages and sells user data. One of Facebook’s greatest assets is its storehouse of personal data on 900 million people. Is Facebook likely to keep user data private, as that seems like the ethical thing to do? Nope. They will continue to make a profit by selling targeted ad space to companies that wish to target Facebook users. If your profile indicates you like running and outdoor activities, expect an ad from an outdoor sporting goods retailer. 85 percent of Facebook’s total revenue, a mere $3.2 billion came from advertising revenue last year. However, in comparison to Google that seems insignificant. Google’s estimated advertising revenue in 2011 was $36.5 billion. Google and Facebook are not alone. Countless companies are interested in personal online data. By implanting cookies or other tracking mechanisms on people’s computers and Internet browsers, they are able to access online data.
Attempting to understand and keep track of our personal data being shared online seems like and arduous task. We have limited, if not no control, over what information is shared, with whom and at what price. If you are not keen on sharing your Internet activity details with advertisers there is a solution. A new browser extension called PrivacyFix allows users to manage their privacy settings on the Web. PrivacyFix supports Google Chrome and Firefox and checks your privacy settings across websites, particularly Google and Facebook. A dashboard explains and displays your settings, allowing users to manage them directly. It does not point out all the privacy settings on major sites like Facebook, Google and other sites, but focuses on the most critical ones.
Photo source: Bill Frymire