A few years ago, I was merrily emailing a friend when I noticed something strange. An ad on the righthand column of my Gmail account matched what I was emailing about. What a coincidence! I (naively) thought. Here I am talking about taking a vacation and suddenly I get an ad for vacations. But then it got stranger. I mentioned the idea of getting a dog and suddenly an ad for dog grooming services popped up. Soon, I was fascinated. I began typing in any old thing and watching as the ads matched what I typed. That's when I realized: Google was watching. Dahdundun!
But Google doesn't stop there. It also stores up information about what types of sites you visit and then shows you ads that are "personalized" from your Internet history.
You can opt-out of being tracked. Supposedly. Only Google managed to find some kind of loophole in the opt-out process and went ahead and tracked users anyway -- even if they'd made it per-fect-ly clear they didn't want to be tracked. But this is the company that gives you the app that lets your boss stalk you, so what can you expect, really.
Google has now been fined $22.5 million by the FTC for its sneaky ways. However, Google is worth $200 billion. This is like Donald Trump being fined five cents for being a blowhard.
Some people may be fine with being tracked. This does personalize your ads so that you may find stuff you want to buy and not be bombarded with useless ads you have no interest in. But maybe you're the type who just happens to like your privacy. Maybe you don't want spammers and identity thieves finding you. Maybe you don't want a bunch of big companies knowing where you surf and what you buy and doing who knows what with that information.
As someone who has been writing for online publications for years, I've pretty much given up the idea of any kind of online privacy whatsoever. But the rest of you still have a chance. One way to protect your privacy is to sign up for a service like Anonymizer that lets you surf the web under the radar. Go on and save yourselves!
Do you worry about being tracked online?
Image via E-StrategyBlog.com/Flickr