July 15, 2015
In a normal web site visit, without any extra precautions, you should expect the information regarding the visit to fall into the clutches of Big Data. The data is collected by the site, aggregated by third party services, correlated with historical data and profiled. The profiled data is then ready for use by the various actors with the necessary access which include businesses, authorities and criminals.
Every web site receives some identifying information about its visitors as a result of the standard Internet protocol operation. When a third party service is used1 it also gets this information and anything else it manages to harvest from the user’s browser. By their nature, third party services are in a position to aggregate data from multiple web sites. They can then find correlations over time and between sites which they use to profile the site visitors.
The correlated and profiled user data is of interest to businesses because it allows them to target and filter content based on user profiles. The service company may use this information itself or it could sell the data to other businesses.
Since the web services doing the correlation and profiling are constant sources of up-to-date confidential data, they are enticing targets for authorities wishing to implement surveillance and criminals stealing information.
It is tempting to think that your innocent visits to above-board web sites are inconsequential. In reality, each visit extends the stored profile about your habits, interests, opinions and beliefs. Usually the profile is used to create an information bubble around you. It is possible that the resulting bubble delivers exactly what you prefer. The more likely cases are that it prevents you from finding new information you really want, or that state authorities use it in surveillance programs, or that the service provider gets hacked and you get involved in an identity fraud case.
There is a multitude of web services for other sites including ad agencies, analytics, site optimization, user tracking and more. ↩
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