Data collection and digital privacy

karthik · updated · flag

In the previous lesson, we learned what a tracking cookie is. it is also easy for a site to collect the following information along with the facts they obtain from cookies.

  • This user lives in Coimbatore area.
  • This user’s browser language is English.
  • This user’s name is Sally.
  • Sally uses a desktop computer.
  • Sally also has an android phone.
  • Sally’s top searches are for ‘depression’ ‘nutrition’, and ‘dogs’

In the modern web, to get that competitive edge we discussed earlier, companies like Google and Facebook do a lot of creepy stuff like this to mine data from you. They extend beyond the cookie realm and use browser APIs, dark patterns that fool users into voluntarily giving their information, or sometimes even go to the extent of acquiring services and platforms that have a large userbase and then start collecting data from it.

The more sites you visit have third-party tools and services installed (even Mindspace uses Google Analytics), the more data they can collect and start aggregating on you. The data is constantly iterated as an asset profile on you to target advertisements when you browse. These data, which are collected without your consent, is not only a violation of your privacy but also a threat to your identity if it’s shared with numerous third parties.

It’s more like living inside a glass house without curtains.

Protecting your digital privacy

Laws like GDPR solely exists to make sure the users are made aware of cookies and tracking being done to them. But that’s not enough. It’s your privacy and you should take action against it as well. It’s quite easy to protect yourself from online tracking.

  • Use a privacy-focused browser like Firefox on your devices. It enables tracking protection by default.
  • Use extensions like uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger that blocks advertisements and tracking cookies.
  • If a service or website forces you to use their application, it’s likely that they want to track you more. If you can use their service via their website, just use it in a browser.
  • Browsers have a Do Not Track feature and some ad services do respect such requests. Enable the setting.
  • Use private modes in browsers when needed.
  • Use a Tor network for critical requirements where your anonymity is essential.

To learn how to access the cookies stored by your browser, check out the next lesson. It’s optional, but still good to know.