Isn't it magical? When you are searching for something online or discussing it with a friend and then suddenly, it is advertised to you via Social media?
Not really, it's actually a little bit creepy and now that the existence of web-tracking and similar methods companies use to keep your digital footprints in stored data has been completely and publicly revealed, some of us are even a little peeved.
We have now been made aware, most recently by researchers at Princeton, that almost five hundred powerful ecommerce and news sites are recording whichever cyber movements of yours they can. These companies include Reuters, Al-Jazeera, Adobe, Microsoft and WordPress, amongst many others. This data capture could include searches, keystrokes, how and where you scroll and there is a new tool in town to capture all your dirty laundry data. It's called 'Session-Replay'.
"Session Replay" scripts are created to improve user engagement and gain detailed information to shape the user experience. In plain English this means, 'Session replay scripts' are meant to understand how the potential customer thinks so that we can improve the sales process. From the sales side, the more details they can gain in order to build up a better picture of a client the better they can serve them, entice them etc.
This is all well and good, until they start going overboard with data gathering. The scripts are also recording deleted text, searches and movements on the page, the things you may not want recorded.
It's almost as if you said that these ecommerce companies could come into the bathroom while you are showering to grab toilet paper but instead of politely leaving, they are hanging around and peeping behind the curtain.
This exposure of our online habits is disarming and leaves us feeling vulnerable. It also makes us more vulnerable. Sensitive data, like passwords, credit card numbers or medical information displayed on a page, then deleted and recollected by Session replay scripts is a liability.
It can expose you to identity theft and scams because the third parties collecting your info, deleted or otherwise, don't have the legal need or responsibility to maintain privacy laws. So now 'Johns' passwords, private life and feelings about his wife are in the hands of third parties everywhere.
What can be done?
Without your agreement, third parties are discussing your movements and monitoring your online actions, it's happening all the time. It's a Brave New World dear reader, but for every action there can be a reaction and since knowledge is power, through a little research we have come up with some solutions for you to take on board:
If you're a Chrome user, use add-ons to decipher which sites transmit data to third parties and stop them in their tracks, such as Adblock Plus which halts Facebook and Twitter from passing on your details. Or 'Do Not Track Plus" which ceases third- party data exchanges—with this installed , no info can get passed on without your agreement.
If you use FireFox, Adblock Plus is still relevant. The add-on gets rid of loads of those irritating adverts from your favorite sites and as a bonus keeps both ads and plug-ins from sending your info without your explicit consent. Ghostery (also good for Chrome) lays out the details on scripts, cookies and hidden trackers on all sites that you visit. This allows you to pick and choose which sites you may want to block. Finally Priv3 defends Firefox users from Social media third-party cookies (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn).
If you are old school and are still Safari, Opera or Internet Explorer fans the same kind of protection will apply.
In terms of mobile browsing, the add-ons are far fewer although you can browse using Atomic Web or Dolphin, safer browsers for iOS or Android. Furthermore, switch on privacy mode while browsing and clear out your private info on a frequent basis
These are our first steps in preventing third-party peeking with Web-trackers. We would love to hear your thoughts, please send us those in the comments below.