If you’re reading this right now, along with the thoughts of how great these blog posts are (at least I hope you are) there is probably at least one other thought running through your mind; “I wonder if anyone knows I’m looking at this.”

The best assumption to answer that question with is YES, someone does. Nearly every single thing we look at, search for, and click on is recorded in some way, shape or fashion by the Internet. In particular, the advertisers on the Internet.

Here are some VERY basic explanations:

  1. Let’s say you own XYZ company that has a website. You work ver hard to maintain and drive traffic to your site and someday meet your goals of hits, clicks, views, etc.
  2. Now lets say along comes ad firm ABC, and they are advertising that they are looking for affiliate sites to host banner ads, and they pay you every time someone clicks on the link.
  3. After thinking on it, you come to the conclusion that this would be an easy to maintain, simple stream of income for your business, so you agree, fill out the paperwork, and add the cod to your site, and you make millions, right?

Not so fast!

What determines what they pay you? In a nutshell, it could be based on a commission from any sale, on a simple per click basis, or some other method. Were not here for an in depth discussion on the ins and outs of Internet Advertising. Our point here is, in order to determine those figures, somewhere there has to be data collected to reinforce those amounts.

Even closer to you, how do they know which ads to put in front of you? (or “serve” to you, in that language)

  1. Every time you get on your computer, you may have hundreds of interactions with the massive amount of data on the web. You might Google something. While on Social Media you gravitate to and comment on certain pages and topics, and sometimes you might click on an interesting ad. When, what, and how often you purchase items online is also a data point that might be of interest to an advertiser.
  2. All such data is collected, generally by your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Or internally to your computer with “cookies”

Have you ever wondered why you might search Google for a part for a car, and then notice every website you visit has auto parts store ads on it somewhere. Well, the computers are automatically tracking your search history and habits, and catering the ads you see to what you are currently interested in. Is it perfect, no, but it’s darn close.

To an advertiser, this information is more valuable than gold. How do we gain, keep, and get repeat business from a customer? If we knew their interests, and habits, we could much more effectively, and inexpensively, target the ads we put in front of you that you are most likely to respond to! If you were a big advertising firm, or large merchant, or simply on a limited advertising budget, that sort of information would be worth paying money for, right?

Well, fortunately up until recent history, Privacy in general has become a front line issue in the nation’s politics. People want theirs, and so not want big companies to know what they like to search, click, or browse. I mean, the Internet was invented so we could get away from the era of 5 to ten pieces of “junk mail” in our box every day, right? In effect, we created a way to get hundreds of these “junk” advertising items in front of us daily, and much more cheaply for the ad merchant.

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission), FTC(Federal Trade Commission), and Congress responded to peoples concerns a few years ago, and passed laws and wrote rules prohibiting Broadband ISPs from selling that information on the open market. Essentially compiling a list of your personal preferences and Internet behavior, and then selling that list on the open market to whomever wishes to buy it.

That reassured many Americans, Privacy Advocates, and lawmakers that people were protected from being harassed and targeted by advertisers based upon what they were doing in the privacy of their own homes on the Web. And we all lived happily ever after, right?

Unfortunately, the answer is NO. When DJT ascended to the White House, and Republicans gained control of both houses of congress, the first thing they did was begin to get rid of many of the protections and rules put in place by the outgoing Obama administration.  Among them were the aforementioned Internet privacy rules.

Read more about the Regulatory Rollback in my last article: Wal Mart doesn’t do this many rollbacks.

Why is this. What sense does it make to remove this simple protection for citizens to be able to search for and click whatever they wish, without someone trying a hundred times to sell them that very same thing? The short answer is, NONE! The long answer is a bit more complicated.

We all know Republicans control the Presidency and both houses of Congress. The Republican Party has a well deserved reputation for being on the side of business. As I laid out above, this data is worth a lot of money. ISPs are in the business of making money, right? So removing this roadblock of not being able to sell your browsing history clears the way to another stream of income, true?

The truth is, the ISPs of this country spent millions of dollars lobbying Congresspeople and Senators for this very thing. The popular story is that Congress found these rules to violate the Constitution, so they acted to repeal them. There is a large number of prople that think Republicans are just giddy with power and are trying to erase every vestige of Obama’s legacy (such as trying to repeal the ACA).  There may be some small part of that in this, but I’m reasonably certain it goes back to the one thing that taints our politics nearly every day in America: Money.

Broadband providers didn’t “spend” millions lobbying Congress because they felt a civic duty. They “invested” that money to influence votes in their favor, so that in turn, they could see a return on their investments, and you could be “programmed” to click where they want you!

InternetPrivacy_591_venn diagram_scienceprogress_org

Now that we understand a little of the history and how we got here, Let’s talk about a couple of important things. What can I do to protect myself in my own home. First, you need to understand, just like with criminal hacking, no system is foolproof. You might forget, use weak passwords, or just out of curiosity, click on something that triggers a “ad bomb” or other annoying advertising scheme.

Browse in “private” mode:

Most web browsers have some sort of “private” mode you can use to mask your online activity. In Firefox,  you open a “new private window.” Just go to the pull-down menu at the top right (three bars), when it drops down, click on “new private window.” That will open a whole new window, with an explanation of what private mode means, and what it does not.

Note: Although this mode disables tracking, your ISP can still see your browsing history.

On MS Edge, click the three dots in the upper right hand corner and click “New InPrivate Window. Again, a new browser page will open telling you what InPrivate is, and is not.

In these windows you can search and view the web as you normally do, but your history is not saved.

Other browsers have a similar option, you might have to search to find it.

Clear your history and cookies:

Occasionally clear your browser history and cookies on file so they are not stored on your system for someone to hack into your computer and be able to see that information. Most systems and Antivirus programs have a cookie blocker that only allows ones you actually want to be saved.

Ask your ISP and obtain/read their privacy policy:

Just because your ISP CAN collect and sell data, does not mean they WILL. If they intend to do this, they still have to disclose it in their Privacy Policy. This can generally be found as a link in the footer section of their web page. If you are given an option to “opt-out” of the collection, you can take it by following their guidance.

Set up a VPN (Virtual Private Network):

I will admit I am not the most tech savvy guy out there, but I do know many that are, and are familiar with this issue who say that setting up a VPN on your home/work network can help protect you from this type of collection. Please note that there are a large portion of experts that do not agree. Seek the advice of local Tech Support for more information about this.

There’s a couple. I hope they help. As I said before, nothing will, or can protect at 100%. Once the data leaves your system and goes to the internet, you are no longer in control of it, but you can take steps to secure your own machines.

And finally, here is a humorous graphic I found during my research, hopefully it explains some stuff and makes you smile! By the way, it’s NSFW.



Picture/Photo Credits:

  1. “Online Privacy”;
  2. Venn Diagram;
  3. Chart;

How Privacy Vanishes Online

EFF’s Top 12 Ways to Protect Your Online Privacy

The Huffington Post:Internet Privacy Articles

Once more, a couple of links to help us pay the bills: