Here comes yet another software program consumers are having to use to protect their privacy. For those companies that continue to collect our personal data, it is possible they will continue to create more programs to do so; hence, the need for new software to block their new software…You get the picture. It’s like a vicious circle.
Upon reading recent news stories about how Facebook tracks almost everywhere he goes on the Internet, Jim Kress grew outraged. I can sympathize with him.
The business process consultant from Northville, Mich., subsequently learned Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Adobe and many other companies also exhaustively track his online activities. “I was very unnerved to discover the extent of all the other tracking that was done by nearly every site on the Web,” he says.
Kress, 61, decided to fight back and did some homework about a powerful class of online tools and services — most of them free — designed to block online behavioral tracking. He began using a new free service called Do Not Track Plus from Internet privacy start-up Abine.
Kress is part of a grass-roots movement that began to grow late in the year and is expected to continue growing in 2012 – where consumers are taking online privacy into their own hands. I am glad to hear this – I will be looking to join this movement and downloading this software. I have tracking software on my computer and have the capability of blocking sites, etc., but I would be curious to see if this software is more extensive and less difficult to use.
Suppliers of the best-known anti-tracking tools — Ghostery, Adblock Plus and TrackerBlock — all reported big jumps in usage in the second half of 2011. Ghostery, for instance, is being downloaded by 140,000 new users each month, with total downloads doubling to 4.5 million in the past 12 months, says Scott Meyer, CEO of parent company Evidon.
Adblock Plus has been downloaded more than 140 million times and is currently in daily use by more than 17 million Internet users worldwide, managing director Till Faida says.
The goal of newcomer Abine, supplier of Do Not Track Plus, is to make anti-tracking as common as anti-virus for personal computing devices, says CEO Bill Kerrigan. Kerrigan formerly headed anti-virus giant McAfee’s global consumer business.
Online tracking has been a privacy hot potato for more than a decade. The relentless collection, correlation and selling of tracking data take place to help advertisers deliver more relevant ads to individual Web users. I first become concerned when I noticed pop-up ads that weren’t a result of my clicking on any advertisements. I NEVER click on advertisements. The pop-ups were related to topics from my emails.
Social networks and Web app developers are getting into the tracking game, exploring novel ways to derive fresh revenue from tracking data. Recent research shows that as tracking technologies advance, and as more participants join the burgeoning tracking industry, the opportunities for privacy invasion are rising. There are legitimate concerns that health companies, insurers, lenders, employers, lawyers, regulators and law enforcement could begin to acquire detailed profiles derived from tracking data to discriminate against people.
The Federal Trade Commission and several lawmakers began taking big steps in 2011 toward curbing how far companies can go to collect and share tracking data.
The FTC called for a Do Not Track mechanism that would enable Internet users to request not to be tracked. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., proposed a Do Not Track bill that would compel companies to heed such requests. This sounds similar to the “Do Not Call” registry. Consumers have to keep working to try and stay one step ahead of marketers and protecting their privacy.
As you might have guessed, tracking and online advertising companies lobbied intensively to maintain industry self-policing as the status quo. They’ve argued that unregulated tracking is necessary to help pay for free Web content and services that consumers have come to expect. They go on to say that it increases their revenue and provides greater returns on their marketing spends. I see no claims of necessity for survival and I say – find another way to increase your revenue without going through my personal computer.
Facebook says it currently uses tracking data strictly to boost security and improve member’s online experience. But it also has sought patent protection for technology that includes a method to correlate tracking data with advertisements. I have never trusted the motives of Facebook and don’t believe they are concerned with its member’s privacy.
More and more average Web users, such as Doug Toombs, 25, are discovering and using available anti-tracking technologies while the global privacy debate continues. Toombs recently started using Do Not Track Plus and marveled at how the tool automatically blocked more than 13,000 attempts to track his online activities in the course of a few weeks.
Anti-tracking technologies have been around for several years, but most tools and services have earned a reputation for being complicated and confusing. One complexity, for instance, is that anti-tracking tools must be configured to work with specific browsers. Another is that if you try to use multiple tools, things can go haywire. I have come across these struggles myself. Yet, more consumers appear to be looking for direct ways to control tracking.
It seems that the latest version of Ghostery is very quick and simple to download. The consumer receives a blocking mechanism that is much more effective than simply issuing Do Not Track requests and hoping companies obey, as the FTC has called for them to do.
Ghostery automatically blocks all tracking mechanisms issued by several hundred companies on an extensive list that includes two of the most expansive tracking networks: Google’s DoubleClick and Microsoft’s Media Network.
It also stops Facebook from amassing data about every Web page you visit that has a Facebook Like button or the Facebook Connect log-on service.
Ghostery’s blacklist is continually updated with help from a panel of some 300,000 of its users who voluntarily permit Evidon to continually analyze fresh attempts at tracking. “People love being part of the Ghostery community,” says Meyer. “It’s a very powerful group of sophisticated Web users who like having direct feedback into the product.”
TrackerBlock and Do Not Track Plus also rely on continually updated lists to block tracking mechanisms issued by ad networks and social networks, as does Adblock Plus, the most widely downloaded tool.
Adblock Plus is best-known for its ability to block online advertisements from being visually displayed on Web pages. But it can also be configured to block tracking mechanisms, and more users are setting it up that way, Faida says.
Average consumers who’ve already figured out how to use the current anti-tracking tools say the trouble is well worth it.
William Morris, 55, discovered that the performance of his older Windows XP desktop PC improved considerably once he curtailed the tracking communications constantly taking place in the background on his browser.
One evening, Morris spent two and a half hours researching a physics topic online, keeping an eye on the tally of tracking attempts blocked by Do Not Track Plus. The total: 4,076. “It’s unbelievable that there are that many entities out there on the Internet poking their nose into whatever I’m doing,” Morris says.
Read entire article@ lastwatchdog