How Companies Track You Online and Off

Posted onLeave a commentCategoriesBusiness Notes, Cross Device Tracking, Tracking activity off line, Tracking Online, VPN

How Companies Track You Online and Off . . . .

How many times have you opened the internet browser and these stupid ads just pop up!  I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty darn invasive and annoying.  Obviously you are being tracked but how does this happen?

Companies now have the availability to follow you from one platform to another – this is called  cross-device tracking, – which in itself is really invasive.  Have you ever wondered how those stupid pop up ads appear on your computer screen?

Oh my – this is scary do you realize with  robust tracking, a company can follow you basically from the moment you wake up and check social media feeds on your phone, through your commute, to work, back through the evening, and once more to your bed at night.  Your activity both online and off is valuable data to a marketer, who chooses to sell ad campaigns that target “You.”

Not only is this type of tracking invasive but it could also be potentially harmful.  That’s why the Federal Trade Commission is trying to wrap its head around how all this works.  To get there, the FTC recently held a workshop on Cross-Device tracking, and has now published a report [PDF] highlighting some key facts about this increasingly popular practice.

5 Things We’ve learned about “How Companies Track You Online and Off“:

1. You don’t need always to be logged in to be tracked.

Tracking Online and Off Bullying in the workplace

The FTC found that companies are using both “deterministic” (information you give) and “probabilistic”  (An Educated Guess) approach to identifying users and connecting them to one overarching profile, meaning that advertisers don’t always need you to be logged in to know that it’s you.

Examples of Deterministic data are logging on to your google account on your work pc or your personal phone both of these tie the devices to a single account.  Ever give your phone number to a sales clerk?  I am guilty of this – they usually use it for finding your rewards card account number so you can earn points or a percentage off – this ties that transaction to your unique identifier (your 10 digit phone number too)

Examples of Probabilistic data – an educated guess on the advertiser’s part.  Ok, say you log into a shopping site from your phone at home – if that has the same IP address as your home PC that increases the chance both are you.  How about you using the WiFi at work to login again from your phone the next day.   Next you log in to a site with your Work Laptop or PC (still sharing an IP address)  this solidifies that all three logins are you.

2. Cross-device tracking can actually improve account security.
Cross-device tracking can actually offer the benefit of preventing unauthorized access to your accounts.  Are you familiar with two-factor authentication?  If not here is a brief explanation – “it’s the process of using a secondary ID check to the login process.”   If you enable two-factor authentication on any login in network no matter where you are accessing it from you will have to enter both your password and a unique code that is texted to your phone or obtained thru an authenticator app.

Tracking online and off Terror on the website - Brute Force Attacks3. Companies are not at all transparent about tracking practices.
The FTC’s report basically confirms that there isn’t much you can do about tracking if you use  digital services.   “Companies do not appear to be explicitly discussing cross-device tracking practices in their privacy policies,”  The FTC staff reviewed 100 website privacy policies and only 3 mentioned Cross Devise Tracking.

Not only is the fact that it exists completely opaque, the report notes, but also the parties involved are utterly hidden. A consumer can reasonably guess that the service she logs into on both her phone and her computer knows she’s using both devices, but she has no easy way to identify what third parties are also involved.

I can’t imagine how to figure out who is buying, selling, tracking and trading my online footprints – can you?

4. Consumers have very little control.
Are you clearing your browser’s cookies?  Stats suggest that 30-50% of users are actually doing this on a monthly basis.  Smartphone users?  29% in the U.S. and U.K. have ad tracking limiting settings enabled on their devices and approximately 22% of all the world’s smartphone users have enabled a type of mobile ad blocker.

5. The industry is working on some voluntary self-regulation… sort of.
You can go  to the National Advertising Initiative or Digital Advertising Alliance websites to opt-out of certain targeted advertising for years.

But there’s always been a catch: you have to select services one at a time, per-device, per-browser in order to opt out. Clearing your cookies deletes your opt-out preferences. And even if the request works (sometimes it doesn’t), there have been few — if any — consequences for an advertiser that ignores your opt-out request.

I don’t know about you, but I am always wondering where my information is going.  Virtual Private Networks (VPN’s)  would be beneficial and worth the minimal expense.  Here is a great article on the “21 Terrifying Cyber Crime Statistics” from the VPN Geeks – here is a sneak peek:

  • 760,000 records were lost per day (Mcafee 2017)
  • Cyber crime to cost $6 Trillion by 2021
  • 30% phishing emails are opened
  • 300 billion passwords worldwide by 2020

Check out the article – it’s full of interesting stats and it just may scare you – How Companies Track You Online and Off is frightening to say the least.


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