Thursday, April 3, 2014

What I Didn't Know About Being Online

Source: Chappatte, International Herald Tribune
I want to get a rain barrel or two to collect rain water from the downspouts around the house. I love the idea of conserving water for later use on the lawn and in our future garden. Being curious about how it works and what it might cost I went online and searched several sights. Later that day I logged onto facebook and to my surprise my newsfeed contained an ad for rain barrels. What the what?!?! How did facebook know that I was just searching for rain barrels?


I know that companies are doing everything they can these days to target their advertisements to the right people. Sounds reasonable to me and maybe even mutually beneficial. In that spirit I understand why I get ads for master's degree social work programs on facebook, because I told facebook about my bachelor degree in social work. What really surprised me was that, while signed out of facebook, my Google search was somehow tracked or recorded and accessed by facebook. How did they do it?

I'm not exactly doing nefarious things online and don't really have anything to hide. It's not terrible to see ads for items or services you might want to buy. BUT I don't know how I feel about all of this level of shared information. If facebook can access it, who else can? I may not mind companies using this to personalize the ads I see but what other info is being collected, by who and for what purpose? It seems like it could be a slippery slope.

Clearly I don't even know who all has access to what I'm doing online. As someone who spends a great deal of time online, this bothers me. I tend to be very careful about my online behavior. I don't click on random links or shop online or store personal data. I use anti-virus and spyware protections. I always keep my computer's camera covered when I'm not using it. I never e-file my taxes. Frankly, the precautions I take might sound a bit extreme to the general population but I just want to limit my exposure to violations. That being said, it's pretty darn hard to protect yourself against violations that you can't even imagine.

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