Suspicious about how Big Brother is using ever more sophisticated tools to track your use of the Internet? Google, Amazon, the FBI, Facebook, the company that owns your work computer can all monitor what you do online. But it may be the lesser of two evils.
Each organization would claim they have good reason for their surveillance, and to some extent it’s arguable they really do, assuming they can be trusted to act responsibly. In the case of Google their knowledge of almost everything we look at on screen helps them target highly individualized adverts, which increases effectiveness for advertisers, makes lots of money for Google, and keeps all those incredibly useful services like search, email, storage, free to use for everyone.
Even so I can’t blame people for feeling uneasy, even paranoid, about the intrusion behind the screen, even when the only obvious result is advertising popping up on my computer for mail-order Creative Writing degrees, Cellphone packages and Shelving Systems, all connected in some way to stuff I’ve done online.
The European Union, an odd organization that champions consumer rights when not busy bankrupting small member nations, has recently banned web sites from dropping cookies in secret on visiting computers, legislation now insists they must, if they’re hosted in Europe, explicitly get a user’s permission beforehand. Additionally browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer have introduced ‘Do Not Track’ settings – though usually buried in the options and compliance by websites is voluntary. You can even tell Google you want to stay private if you dig deeply enough into account settings.
So I tried becoming anonymous recently. It took a few hours delving through technical advice sites, ironically relying on Google, before I had every system, browser and cookie setting switched to protect my online identity from prying eyes. I don’t have anything to hide, honest. I simply believe in a right to privacy.
Google and it’s surveillance buddies however seemed to draw their own conclusions about the type of person who’d want to become anonymous in this way. My targeted (and admittedly appropriate) adverts for shelving systems and the classic books of John Dickson Carr were promptly replaced by larger and much more colorful banners for agencies representing attractive Russian brides, and for sun-soaked Gay vacation resorts in Palm Springs (I’m broad-minded, but both at once ?). Clearly they weren’t tracking my financial status any longer.
And of course it wasn’t what I wanted anyone physically looking over my shoulder to see on my laptop (okay, I’m really narrow-minded). I went back to allowing widespread surveillance. They’re tracking me again, probably even as I write. Google, if you’re reading this, tell Anastasia from Podolsk to email me, I’ve lost her details. FBI – friend me on Facebook?
For technical details here’s how the experts explain it: How Websites Track You Online