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In-Depth Information
Online privacy is currently a huge topic, not just in the industry but even at government level in the United States
and Europe. Like it or not, Google, Yahoo, MSN, Microsoft, and many other companies have information about you.
Believe it or not, you yourself handed it over to them, more or less. A quick question: do you have a Gmail, Yahoo,
or MSN mail account? Do you use social networks—Facebook, Google+, and so on? I assume the answer to at least
one of those questions is a resounding, yes. The truth is, when you sign up and provide information to these social
networks and publishers, you are essentially trading the information for use of their tools and services. You effectively
make yourself Google's and Facebook's product to advertisers. These services sell audience information to advertisers
because they know what your likes and dislikes are, how old you are, and even where you live. This may be a bit
scary, even Big Brotherish, but really, you never get anything for free. So choose wisely before you hand over your
For more information on how the U.S. government is helping web users understand their rights, visit .
So you may be asking yourself, if I don't sign up for those services, how can they get my information? You don't need
to surrender all your information to be tracked online. All by itself, online behavior is an extremely valuable metric for
advertisers. Have you ever shopped on Amazon or another shopping site and then later viewed a couple of web pages
and realized that the product you originally looked at on Amazon was now being advertised to you wherever you went
online? If you have, you're not alone. This happens because you had a cookie dropped in your browser storage.
Every browser has some memory dedicated to storing files in its local cache. They can be stored to optimize
viewing web sites that you frequent. Depending on what domain the cookie was dropped from (in this case Amazon),
different sorts of information bits are stored about you as viewer. In Amazon's case, this information could be what
product you saw, what color it was, what time of day you viewed it, or a plethora of other information.
Once the cookie information is in your cache, you take it everywhere you go on the Web. Sort of like a digital
shopping passport! This information can be shared with data providers (Blue Kai and similar companies) who use it to
pinpoint even more information about you as you browse. The more you browse, the more information is accumulated
about you and your browsing behavior: what your potential likes and dislikes are, what time you normally search the
Web—the list goes on. This information can even be paired with a unique ID number and loaded in databases for
lookup and retargeting. AdTruth ( ) and companies like it are worth checking out. This information
is not, strictly speaking, personal; it's just information about you and your online behavior. But again, data providers
can sell the information to advertisers to help them target an audience by groups or segments—potentially down to
If you are a Firefox browser user, there is a really nice browser add-on called Collusion. It helps visualize what is
going on when you are browsing the Internet (see Figure 1-6 ).
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