Track Online Privacy Issues When Shopping

February 17, 2023
Track Online Privacy Issues When Shopping

Here’s what you can do to enjoy shopping online and not be stalked by ads and avoid online privacy issues.

We’ve all been there. You start looking around on the internet for something you’re interested in, close the browser because you’re not quite ready to buy, and the next thing you know, it’s all over your social media feeds in the form of ads. It’s disturbing and annoying, at the very least. These adverts are literally stalking you – even appearing on websites that have absolutely no relation to the items you were looking at earlier on.Welcome to Targeted Ads (or, as they might be more aptly named, stalker Ads!)

Maybe you want to know How to Unsubscribe From Pesky Marketing Emails

What is a targeted Ad?

Targeted ads are born out of our digital viewing habits (the specific traits, interests, and preferences of a consumer).

Quite simply, they remember what we view and, subsequently, might buy online and then use this information to sell us things advertisers think we might like – unfortunately leading to another set of online privacy issues.

Privacy issues

It’s important to remember that nothing you do online is private. Essentially the more information you share on the internet, the more advertisers know about you, and can assume what your buying habits are.

Have you ever heard the saying: “If you’re not paying to use a service, you’re the product”

So, taking Facebook as an example – it’s completely free to use.  The fact it is, essentially, it means that you’re the product. Facebook is a multi-billion-dollar business because, whether we like it or not, it sells our data.

But not all is not lost.  We can all start to take a little bit of action to restrict these types of adverts if we don’t like the idea of advertisers knowing our viewing habits.

Companies like Apple have users as a top priority, meaning it doesn’t profit from selling user data, so you can confidently buy an iPhone. Still, when you use apps like Facebook, Instagram, and other apps, they can collect quite a bit of data on you if you let them.

Now that google shopping is here, online privacy issues are only going to get worse right? Not necessarily.

If you use any google products and have been curious about what Google does with the data it collects, this blog should shed some light.

What types of information does Google collect from you as a user, what does it do with that data, and do they sell that data to third parties? Let’s dive in.

How companies collect and use data, and why privacy matters?

It’s common knowledge these days that devices, websites, and apps are tracking your data. They use a variety of methods to collect information about you, including the use of Cookies. Websites use text-based files to store information (usually session IDs, login data, etc.) on your computer. Companies also use what are called ‘third-party persistent cookies to follow your activity around the web, to report on which sites you visit. Google announced it will stop using third-party cookies in Chrome by the end of 2024, joining a growing list of browsers ditching the notorious tracking technology.

But the end of third-party cookies does not mean the end of tracking and online privacy issues. Existing technologies that can track users just like third-party cookies include:

  • Local Storage
  • IndexedDB
  • Web SQLand
  • any other technology that makes it possible to save data on a user’s device from browsers (as cookies do).

Other browsers (like Safari) have been blocking third-party cookies for years, and we’ve repeatedly seen trackers resort to workarounds, different methods and new technologies that make them able to track users just the same.

Location tracking. Your phone, whether Android or iPhone, contains a GPS, which is useful when you need directions. However, your device may monitor your location even when you aren’t using your maps app.

Companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook get users’ consent to track data in these and other ways by burying opt-in agreements in their terms and conditions. They claim to do so to serve you more accurate results.

While this is true, companies also sell your data to advertisers so they can show you targeted promotions. You’ve probably noticed that your Facebook ads often correspond with your recent internet activity.

However, targeted marketing isn’t always necessarily a bad thing. It can sometimes help direct you to products you need. Likewise, session and personalisation cookies save you from having to re-enter data every time you visit a website.

Online privacy issues arise when companies get a hold of personal information such as your medical history, bank records, or even private communications such as text messages. This type of data could be dangerous in the wrong hands.

As a result, a wave of legislation has passed during the last few years regarding tracking cookies and privacy (see the Cookie Law and the GDPR). Many countries now require websites to get consent to use cookies.

Tracking technologies are changing, but data protection laws require end-user consent.

What kind of data does Google collect?

Your name, billing address, email address, and password associated with your Google account is considered personal information. Adding a phone number or payment information to your account is also considered personal information. It also collects the content you create, upload, or receive from others using Google services. This includes emails you write and receive, photos and videos that you save, docs and spreadsheets that you create, and comments that you leave on Youtube videos or google reviews. Google also generates information about the apps, browsers and devices you use to access Google services. This information includes device type, carrier name, crash reports, and which apps are installed.

Activity is another big area of data that Google collects which can cause online privacy issues, such as the:

  • Terms you search for in Google search,
  • Videos you watch
  • Views and interactions with content and advertisements
  • Voice and audio information when you use audio features
  • Purchase activity
  • People who you communicate with or share content with
  • Activities on third-party sites and apps that use Google services
  • Chrome browsing history you’ve synced with your Google account.

Google also collects location data information which helps it offer you services like driving directions through Google Maps.

Ok, so that’s a lot of data that Google is collecting from you.

Why so much Google?

The main reasons why Google does this are to build better services, maintain and improve those services, develop new services, provide personalised services including content and advertisements, measure performance, and communicate with you.

Targeting advertising is one of the main ways that Google generates revenue as a company.

So, does Google sell data to third-party companies?

In short, no. Companies use Google’s ad platforms to show you ads that they think will be relevant to you, but those companies themselves do not get the data set that Google owns.

It’s essentially a trade-off, like most things in life, that you get to use most of Google services for free, but you are giving them something of value in return: your data.

How Google tracks you and how to disable tracking

Google’s entire business model collects and tracks as much user information as possible. You’ll need to dig deep into your account settings if you want to opt out of online privacy issues.

To get started, go to any Google service and follow the steps below:

  • Click on your account icon in the top-right corner of the screen.
  • Select the Manage your Google Account option.
  • Then, on the next screen, look for the Data & Privacy tab on the left

You’ll get a complete overview of how Google tracks your data here. The search giant keeps tabs on your activity across its services and apps, as well as your location:

Select the Manage your activity controls option. You can then toggle off various tracking options, including browser activity and location history.

To stop tracking altogether, disable all the option groups. Keep in mind that you won’t receive personalised YouTube video recommendations or ads if you do this.

How to stop targeted ads?

Below are a few tips to help you stop or reduce the number of ads that you see:

  • To simply stop seeing ads, you might wish to consider downloading a reputable ad blocker for your web browser.
  • Regularly clear your cookies and ask websites not to track you. You can do this in the Privacy settings of your web browser.
  • Request for participating Ad agencies to stop tracking your information. You can do this by visiting various reputable opt-out sites.
  • Limit the amount of information you share on your social media accounts. This will help reduce the amount of information that advertisers learn about you.
  • Utilise the private browsing mode which doesn’t record your history or cookies.
  • Reset your advertising ID if you are using an Android or Apple phone. This advertising ID helps marketers track you, but you can reset it whenever you want:
  1. On Android devices, the reset button is in the ads menu inside the Google settings app
  2. On iPhones, the reset button can be located in the settings app, under the privacy menu, then advertising.

Take a look at your Google ad history every now and again using the My Activity tool. Here, you can choose to delete what data Google has stored about you, including the history of ads you have loaded. This way you can reduce the amount of online privacy issues that you are not comfortable with.

We hope this has shed some light on how your data is being used in serving you ads, and what you can do about it. If this blog was of interest, please have a look at our other Related Posts.

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