Privacy at the dark side of the moon

Currently, when you visit any website you can be pretty sure that there is some advertising campaign going on. Your browser is checked for cookies on some remote domain, and we have no clear way of what information this remote domain is tracking, unless we’re willing to dive into a deep pit, unraveling the darkest patterns of information sharing. If we’re not known, we’re made known instantly. You did not have a cookie before, you have it now. Unless you really know what’s going on – but even then – you have no idea that a lot of servers are eavesdropping on your every move.

Google and Facebook being two of the largest providers of advertising “big” data and gatherers of your scurrying, slowly building up a profile of whatever you do. Were you not logged in at the time of visiting the website? If you log into your Facebook or Gmail account later, the pieces can be easily put together; your previous visits to website can (and will) be linked to your current login session, allowing the marketing machines to retroactively build up your profile. And it’s not even limited to using the same session. Since it’s statistics we’re dealing with, it is not that hard to throw in stuff like browser fingerprinting, IP addresses, or even just usage patterns such as search queries, following links, etc. Correlating this to other data in some degree of “sureness”, is still valid statistical information. Statistics, after all, always allows for some error.

It’s been argued a lot around me, including by myself, that it is a service to you as a customer. It could very well match whatever you were looking for anyway, and so it is helping you to get information on what’s out there. And that is another form of doing what the web was intended for: sharing information.

But, it’s not true. It’s guided information. Any guided information, whether it was correctly or incorrectly guided, is still guided. It bears value from The One (or The Entity) guiding the information. And might very well be close to censorship: you do not know what the motivation is for presenting the information to you, and why it’s presented in the shape or form it is.

Feeble attempts are being made by governments to protect us. In Europe for example, you need to provide consent for the website linking to advertisement domains. They must provide with a concise and clear privacy statement, stating for example that by using the website, you will need to allow the website to place tracking cookies and see whatever you’re doing. This usually is presented in the form that a website is doing this for your own good, and does this only to improve your experience. That might be true to some degree. For example: on a sales website, it makes much sense for it to only present the products you might actually be interested in, based on your profile. You could explain that as a service to your customers. But, it is not confined to the borders of the website you’re visiting if all of that data is relatable to whatever you were doing on another website.

There have been attempts for browser applications to protect you. From the earliest days on, Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator have had options to “disable cookies”, for example. Internet Explorer’s standard setting at some point even was not to allow third party cookies (e.g.: cookies from foreign domains) causing all kinds of usability issues. All of the sudden, it was no longer possible to embed Youtube videos in your website, since Youtube wants to place functional – next to tracking – cookies. It is no coincidence that Youtube has not been making money since their founding. Money is not what youtube exists for to generate. It exists to generate information.

That is what the web has become. A big pool of information on you, what you do, what might appeal to you and how you would statistically fit into a pattern that would make it quite probable for you to “convert” to whatever the advertisements are targeted at, in most cases a buyer of some service or product. You are the product.

We, the people, have no freedom. We are addicted to the Internet, and even though a statement like that could be qualified as pretentious, I’d say we’re addicted to the Internet the same way we’re addicted to transportation. There is simply no way around it, there are very few people who can actually manage day-to-day life without. Of course, you could if you really wanted to, but there is no real reason to should want to.

Historically, freedom is closely tied to independence and equality. The dependence in this case would refer to the fact that we would yield a lot of possibilities and perks if we would let go of the use of internet. For example: our governments start to move to using internet (and e-mail) as a primary means of communication. If we want to know our rights on whatever matter there is, we will probably need to find out on the internet. Inequality in this case would refer to the fact that I as a website visitor do not nearly have the amount of information on the websites and companies active on the internet as vice versa. This is not an equal game.

Where do the agencies stand? Do we have a morale, an ethic code to follow? Do we have a responsibility to the ignorant among the website users, or do we simply stand by and see how we throw most of it on the streets, for the sake of pleasing our paying customers? Do we, as the scholars of this age, turn our backs when we see commerce turning into deceit? Or should we soothe and keep at a standpoint where we may assume that there is good in man, that no man will use any information for the wrong means?

Innuendo? You decide. I think true change is long overdue.

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