Shedding the light on data tracking

 

 

 

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer (https://www.edelman.com/trust-barometer/), trust in organizations worldwide is at an all time low.  We trust organizations with our personal information and when that expectation isn’t met, they lose our trust and respect.

This betrayal of trust was felt by up to 87 million Facebook members, mostly in the U.S., when their personal information was obtained by Cambridge Analytica.

While Cambridge Analytica asserted it had “been vilified for activities that are not only legal, but also widely accepted as a standard component of online advertising in both the political and commercial arenas,” the news that their data had been “harvested” was shocking to most members (https://www.bbc.com/news/live/business-43924579).

The scandal opened the eyes of many internet users about web tracking for the first time.  Just what was being shared with third parties?

With my eyes wide-open, I used Firefox’s Lightbeam to shed light on how organizations were sharing my information.

Over the course of 20 minutes, I searched 13 sites who shared my browsing with 218 third parties.  While I wasn’t surprised my search history was being shared, I was surprised with the volume of those involved.

Why care?

Since browsing histories are used to create profiles, and to derive users’ identities, interests and much more, we need to know exactly who is collecting our information and why.

According to Ann Cavoukian, senior fellow at the Ted Rogers School of Management and distinguished expert-in-residence at the Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence at Ryerson, “online citizens may be increasingly resigned to the loss of privacy as a fact of life, but research and public opinion polls show that they’re still not happy about it (https://www.ryerson.ca/news-events/news/2018/10/youre-entitled-to-privacy-even-online/).  In fact the Edelman Trust Barometer cites 83% of respondents want companies to do more when it comes to protecting their privacy.

Source: Edelman Trust Barometer

What needs to change for technology companies to rebuild trust? Prioritize privacy.

Companies need to be more open and transparent about what they share and become more user focused.  Assuming everyone knows that data tracking goes on is not only incorrect (most people do not know the extent – especially young people) and in many cases, it should not even be happening.

If companies do not become more aware of privacy rights, the government can step in with regulations.  For example, when ethicists and others criticized the lack of transparency of bots pretending to be real people, the state of California stepped in this week with a law to require companies to disclose when bots are being used.

Finally, we need to become more digitally literate and vocal about our privacy rights.

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