You've heard the story by now: the services we use online to search the web, send emails, and watch videos track us as we browse, tweet, and share cat memes. Many of us aren't too concerned about online trackers but here's why we should be and what we can do about it.
First, online tracking isn't just about personalized ads that match our interests. It's about so much more; like companies repeatedly selling our data to third-parties who may use it for nefarious reasons.
For example, a report by the Wall Street Journal shows how the hotel booking website Orbitz offered higher hotel prices for users who booked overnight stays using Macs when compared to PC users. According to the report, Mac users paid on average $20 to $30 more per night. How unfair is that?
Moreover, Google has taken a lot of heat lately because it released its privacy label for the company's Chrome web browser, a label that is now part of Apple's App Store in an effort to increase transparency. The privacy label shows that Google collects a plethora of data from its users, and way more than its competitors. Zak Doffman of Forbes says it's "a genuine threat to your privacy" as he calls for users to quit Chrome.
But as tracking and data harvesting have become more well known, a number of companies now offer privacy-focused alternatives and I've been switching to them.
I stopped using Chrome earlier this year and I set my default search engine to DuckDuckGo. I started using the email service HEY, which doesn't track its users. On my company's website, I dropped Google Analytics for Fathom, which also doesn't use any trackers. I also deleted rarely used apps and services. And I'm being more aware of how my data is tracked as I make my way around the web. I've also been working with my clients to build privacy-focused websites for their businesses.
We would all be wise to switch to services that value our privacy and to be more aware of the online services we sign up for. And we should all use a web browser that blocks trackers, such as Firefox or Apple's Safari.
Being tracked online may mean we receive more personalized treatment but the result is a mass harvesting of our data that's being sold to the highest bidder. I don't know about you, but I no longer want to be the product, which is what online tracking makes us.