You’re Tracked Everywhere You Go Online. Use This Guide to Fight Back.

Who cares? I have nothing to hide

We’ve all heard that one before.

“The only people I’ve heard say, ‘Who cares?’ are people who don’t understand the scope of the problem,” Mr. Cyphers said.“A lot of the tracking systems out there make it easier for law enforcement to gather data without warrants,” he said. “A lot of trackers sell data directly to law enforcement and to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. I think the bottom line is that it’s creepy at best. It enables manipulative advertising and political messaging in ways that make it a lot easier for the messengers to be unaccountable. It enables discriminatory advertising without a lot of accountability, and in the worst cases it can put real people in real danger.”
[Like what you’re reading? Sign up here for the Smarter Living newsletter to get stories like this (and much more!) delivered straight to your inbox every Monday morning.]Still, there are signs that things could be improving, if slowly. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, Mr. Cyphers said, “dredged up the worst parts of the industry into the press and popular knowledge,” which in some ways forced companies and lawmakers to acknowledge the issue. Sweeping changes, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act and Europe’s GDPR, have led the way in giving internet users new rights and protections, and Mr. Cyphers said that “popular awareness and the techlash has opened up room for real regulation.”

But we’re a long way from a privacy utopia.

“As long as you can make a buck and what you’re doing isn’t illegal,” Mr. Cyphers said “someone’s going to do it.”

What can I do?

First, be more cautious of the information you voluntary hand over.

“Don’t hand over data unless you have to!” Ms. Hill said. “If a store asks for your email address or ZIP code, say no. When Facebook asks you to upload your contact book, don’t do it. If you’re buying some sensitive product (prenatal vitamins, medication), don’t use your store loyalty card and use cash.”

Added Mr. Cyphers: “Think hard before you enter your email into a form online about why the company actually needs your email and what they might do with it. You can lie. It’s not illegal to put a fake email, or a fake phone number or a fake name in the vast majority of services you sign up for,” he said. “There’s no reason they need it, there’s no reason you have to give it to them.”

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