I thought it was creepy enough when I noticed Google had pulled information from my email (via Gmail) and displayed it when I searched on Google.  Like when I bought airline tickets and got the confirmation through Gmail… and then noticed when I searched Google, it displayed the flight information at the top of the results.  While it had a disclaimer saying only I could see it, it was a little unnerving.

That’s just the tip of the technological iceberg.  We’re all familiar with cookies and tracking code that is responsible for being stalked on-line by ads.  You know, shop for shoes on-line once – just once – and that darn ad will follow you around everywhere you go.

How prevalent is this?

princetonA new study released by Princeton University took on the task of finding how prevalent tracking measures are implemented on the internet.  The study is the largest and most detailed measurement of online tracking conducted to date, based on a crawl of the top 1 million websites to show the effect of browser privacy tools, and the exchange of tracking data between different sites.

The study is full of academic phrasing.  You can read it yourself here if you want.  I’ll save you the time because the key points are this:  Google is watching you.  So is Facebook and Twitter.  And Google is watching even if you never go to Google.

Google tracking is present on 70% of ALL websites

Google_Analytics_Logo_2015Google Analytics is popular across the internet, used by webmasters to document and analyze web traffic and ads.  Really popular.  The researcher looked at the top 1 million websites and found Google Analytics was embedded in nearly 70% of the sites.  That means Google can effectively track your movements on 70% of the internet.

fb-artFacebook is doing it, too, whether you go to Facebook or not.  Both Google and Facebook have ad networks that are embedded in all sorts and type of websites.  Google’s been doing it for years.  Facebook is new to the game, but growing rapidly.  Facebook admitted in the Wall Street Journal that they are now tracking non-Facebook users across the internet.

Princeton University study of tracking on the 1 million most popular websites

“Our buttons and plugins send over basic information about users’ browsing sessions. For non-Facebook members, previously we didn’t use it. Now we’ll use it to better understand how to target those people.”  Andrew Bosworth, vice president of Facebook’s ads and business platform in the Wall Street Journal.

Facebook and Google both put cookies on your device.  That means they are sending little bits of code on your device.  If that sounds like an invasion of your privacy, it’s probably covered somewhere in that Terms of Service (TOS) agreement on the website you’re visiting giving them permission to do it.  You know, that thing you’ve never read?

In part, this is a big reason people have turned to ad-blockers.

You can do something about this

For Facebook users, you can opt out by going to your settings page.  If you’re not a Facebook user. You can opt-out by visiting The Digital Advertising Alliance.

statusI’m careful about where I go and what I do on-line.  I clear my cookies out regularly.  But when I scanned my computer while writing this article, I found 124 companies that were lurking on my PC… and these were just the ones that cooperative with the Advertising Alliance.  To get rid of them, I have to select and opt out.  I did.  If you want to run the scan and opt out, go here.