If You're Not Paying For Something And
You're Not The Customer, Then You're The Product Being Sold" by Jack Swint
Every day we go online, read news, share on social media sites, listen to music, research everything from how to cook a recipe to how the latest health fad can slim our waistlines. Each click of the mouse as we do these things leaves breadcrumb trails of our interests, needs, and websites we stumble upon.When you click on a business website, they then allow 3rd party companies to access, store, and use your information without your knowledge and consent. If you're concerned about who can track you across the Web, Mozilla can now help you see exactly who's following you online instantly with a new and free experimental Firefox add-on called "Collusion."
We experimented with the new "Collusion" technology by randomly logging into both the Charleston Gazette and Daily Mail Newspapers, along with WCHS TV 8 and then automobile giant C&O Motors in St. Albans, WV. What we discovered is how quickly the Collusion program generates spider-web graphs showing how third-party companies are accessing and analyzing our personal information then storing it without our knowledge or permission. And according to Mozilla, these third-party companies may have access to personal information you leave about your finances, health, relationships, interests, birthdays, preferences, address, occupation, age, and more.
Not all tracking is bad. Many services rely on user data to provide relevant content and enhance your online experience. But most tracking happens without users' consent and without their knowledge. That's not okay. It should be you who decides when, how, and if you want to be tracked. The concept behind the tracking we investigated is to take your information, which then affects which online advertising you are served up and which credit card offers you are presented with, while also creating a profile of you with both correct and incorrect assumptions based on these connections.
When we reviewed the number of 'trackers' accessing our information from Charleston Newspapers, WCHS TV, and C&O Motors (who have given permission to third- party companies to do so), it was astonishing just how many uninvited online businesses were allowed to intrude on our privacy. At no time did any of these 3 corporate websites ask for our permission or even notify us up-front that all of these third party companies would be tracking and/or storing our information.
Each tracking company claims it is collecting information from IP Addresses, Flash, and Browser Cookies. And the average amount of time they keep records is up to12 months. There are reported boundaries of what information is forbidden to be tracked, including no use of gov't IDs, financial and insurance numbers, current location, or health info. But there is no government entity to ensure these rules are being followed.
Every tracker website offers up a statement claiming that your information is anonymous, but they contradict themselves by writing "This company does not confirm that it honors Do Not Track." They also provide you with an "opt out" to keep your information from being accessed by their company. But, unless you already knew that company is obtaining your info, there is no way for you to know of any opt out ability. And, after all of their claims and disclaimers, these companies admit they do not verify if tracking is indeed stopped if you request it.
Below are examples of third-party tracking companies that are obtaining your information from these 2 media outlets and one car dealership.
Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail Newspaper
When first accessing the June 3, 2012 Sunday Gazette-Mail main page on their website, Collusion immediately detects that the newspaper is providing our cookie and IP address information to the following 22 companies: Exelator.com, Google.com, Pulse360.com, WTP101.com, Casalemedia.com, Doubleclick.net, Adexpose.com, Mookie1.com, Scorecardsearch.com, Newsinc.com, Legolasmedi.com, Adnxs.com, Quantserve.com, Adbrite.com, Collective-media.net, Btrll.com, Abmr.net, Telemetryverification.net, Crwdcntral.net.
Then, clicking onto the newspapers online marketing advertisement to sell subscriptions to the Gazette brought out several more companies including Auditude.com and CNPapers.com (Charleston Newspaper Corporate Site). Checking the Classified link, the Collusion graph quickly exploded to show a total now of 45 total companies gaining access to our IP address and other personal information available.
There is nothing openly visible on the newspaper website notifying or stating third-party trackers could be gathering your information. We did find one notice that only became visible on a "ZOOSK" online dating advertisement. But only after clicking on that link is there a warning of possible 3 rd party monitoring.
WCHS TV Charleston WV
When we first accessed the front page of WCHS TV's website, only 4 trackers
appeared. Doubleclick.net, Sbgnet.com, Google.com, and Doclix.com. Clicking onto
their June 3, 2012 main story on the arrest of a beating suspect only added one
new third-party company, Twitter.com. The weather link opened up 3 more
trackers, Wxc.com, and Scorecardresearch.com and 2o7.net.
Then, opening up a story link on President Obama exposed another 4 companies having access to our information including, Politicker.com, Pointroll.com, Disqus.com and Quantserve.com. "Politicker' is the politics-focused website of the New York Observer. Finally, clicking onto a news story about Senator Harry Reid and illegal immigration more than quadrupled the total number of trackers digesting our online information.
There is nothing openly visible on WCHS's website notifying or stating third-party trackers could be gathering your information.