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Invasion of Privacy: Tracking Your Online Behavior Across the Web

Every time you visit a website, there’s a good chance that several different corporations are following your every move. They are seeing what you click on, which pages you visit, and where you head next after you visit their page. In fact, according to a new “Tracking the Trackers” report just released by software company Ghostery, 79% of all websites globally are secretly tracking your online behavior. Moreover, many of the trackers set up on these website are, in turn, forwarding your personal information to other companies. For web users everywhere, the message is clear: it’s time to take back the web and end this widespread invasion of privacy.

Ghostery based its invasion of privacy study on the Internet browsing habits of 850,000 users from 12 different countries, making it the largest study of its kind to date. As part of its review of just how extensive this invasion of privacy really is, Ghostery looked at 144 million page loads across a wide variety of web browsers, including Firefox, Chrome and Opera.

 

Results of the invasion of privacy report

What makes the report so eye-opening is just how pervasive this invasion of privacy really is. What Ghostery found was that this type of web tracking and monitoring of online behavior was global in scope, even if many of the tracking companies are actually based in the United States. That makes invasion of privacy through tracking of online behavior a global phenomenon. On more than three-quarters of all websites that you visit, you are picking up a tracking cookie to monitor your online behavior.

The Ghostery report makes a strong case that many web users have lost control of what information about their online behavior they are really sharing – and with whom. For example, 15% of all page loads on the Internet are monitored by 10 or more trackers. Moreover, 10% of all websites are sending the data they record to 10 or more additional companies. Thus, even if you are browsing websites of companies that you trust – such as your bank or medical provider – there’s really no guarantee that any of the personal information you leave behind on these sites won’t be packaged up and sold to someone else, in what would be a clear invasion of privacy.

 

Who is tracking your online behavior?

The silver lining in the Ghostery report – if you’re an optimist – is that all this tracking of online behavior is not being carried out by nefarious government surveillance organizations or black hat hackers. Instead, the tracking is being carried out by a vast network of companies that are part of the Internet’s advertising ecosystem. “In today’s advertising-driven internet ecosystem, it’s ad tech and tracking companies that determine how websites look and how fast they load,” said Jeremy Tillman, Director of Product at Ghostery.

For these ad tech companies, all of the little snippets of data that can be tracked online – such as your social shares on a site like Facebook, your browsing history or your content settings on a news media site – can also be converted into a more complete customer profile, letting them know where you shop and what your web browsing and online behavior habits are – and perhaps even offer insights into your financial and medical condition.

The two biggest invasion of privacy culprits that are most interested in your online behavior, according to Ghostery, are two companies that anyone around the world would recognize: Google and Facebook. According to its study, Google tracks 60.3% of all Internet page loads around the world (primarily via Google Analytics), while Facebook tracks 27.1% of all page loads. Other well-known companies tracking your behavior include Comscore (11.4%) and Twitter (10.5%).

Nicole Lindsey

US Correspondent at CPO Magazine
Nicole Lindsey is a writer and blogger for more than 10 years, focusing on the intersection of technology, innovation and privacy. She has a background in information technology and has worked with various software companies and tech startups on their public relations and communications initiatives.

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