Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Online Tracking, Consumer Profiling, Data Collection and You

Well - it's the holidays when we're using the web along with those credit cards a lot more frequently. Ever wondered who's watching you online?  And who the heck you are giving your personal card info to when making online purchases? Ever also wondered if there was anything you could do to protect yourself a little more? Well, others have too.

Abine, a Massachusetts company spun out of MIT in 2008, has developed some pretty nice tools that allow web users more control over their personal data. These accessible tools allow you to choose when you want to share your information, control your personal data, and provide the ability to protect your online privacy. Before we get to the products - here's some interesting tidbits from an Abine fact sheet:

Online tracking, consumer profiling, and data collection are happening wherever consumers go on the web, usually without their knowledge or approval. Consumers are the product being sold. Social networks, ad networks, and e-commerce sites collect every last byte of personal information they can, combining consumers’ online activity with their offline lives. The consequences of all this data collection are growing and real: lost job opportunities, higher prices, more spam, lower credit scores, identity theft, and more. Let's look at some tracking info and stats:
A tracker is a connection that your browser makes when it loads a webpage that’s intended to record, profile, or share your online activity. Usually these connections are made to entirely different companies than the website you’re actually visiting. The most common types of trackers are:
  • Javascript: 43% 
  • Images, such as 1-pixels: 14% 
  • iFrames: 14% 
  • Flash cookies: 5% 
Abine collaborates with the UC Berkeley Center for Law and Technology on a recurring Web Privacy Census. The most recent Census found:
  • The use of third-party tracking cookies on the 100 most popular websites increased by 11% from May to October 2012. 
If present trends continue, the amount of online tracking will double on about 2.5 years. 
  • Google has a presence on 712 of the top 1,000 websites 
  • 26.3% of what your browser does when you load a website is respond to requests for your personal information, leaving the remaining 73.7% for things you actually want your browser doing, like loading videos, articles, and photos.
  • Google makes 20.28% of all tracking requests on the web 
  • Facebook makes 18.84% of all tracking requests on the web 
5% of the top 1,000 websites use social networking code that can match users’ online identities with their web browsing activities, and nearly 25% of the web’s 70 most popular sites shared personal data, like name and email address, with third-party companies (Wall Street Journal, 12/2012).
So... how do you protect yourself?
Abine has just rolled out DoNotTrackMe 3.0, a browser extension that stops online trackers from finding your contact and credit card info.  Here's a DoNotTrackMe sample screen shot.

In addition, the company is giving out unlimited Masked Cards through December 26. The Masked Cards work with any credit or debit cards you have, allowing you to create disposable credit card numbers for each online purchase you make, preventing having to give out your real card info. 

The company also makes a product called MaskMe which keeps you private as you browse and shop the web, and creates and manages secure passwords and DeleteMe which removes your public profile, contact and personal info, and photos of you from leading data sites. 

Cool stuff. Check them all out.

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