Many of my friends, family and contacts will already know how I feel about surreptitious digitized ‘spying’ by website and App providers (who call it something else and say they only track your behaviour for ‘personalisation’, of course). I’ve been known to rant about ‘sneaky tracking’ ever since it became possible to identify people (by their Internet-connected devices) and connect all of their individual ‘dots’ together to monitor pretty much everything they do, predict what they’ll do in predefined situations and, of course, sell that data to 3rd parties, often without telling you openly and clearly. These ‘Cookie Monsters’ make my blood boil…
The implementation of GDPR in 2018 tilted the balance slightly more in favour of the Consumer (that means you). I spent about year as a specialist GDPR Consultant Business Analyst for some large Public and Private entities and most are openly keen to comply and to make sure they don’t infringe on your rights.
However, even the potentially Company-busting penalties possible under GDPR don’t make the problem go away for a variety of different reasons:
- Some providers don’t pay much attention to GDPR, to be honest, because it can’t “hurt” them for one reason or another – usually because of jurisdiction, limited enforcement resourcing, and the sheer scale of the problem (thousands of providers with millions of pages tracking billions of interactions every day).
- Some providers comply with GDPR to the smallest extent possible (the MCP or ‘Minimum Compliant Product’ approach).
- Some providers don’t actually know, even at this stage, whether they are GDPR-compliant with regard to your data, security & privacy.
Of course, the biggest problem in all of this is us: the consumers. Put simply, we allow providers to behave like this. The ubiquitous, impatient “Accept, Agree and Install” mindset that we have when accessing websites, Social Media platforms or Apps means that sneaky providers know they can simply get you to ‘actively, explicitly’ permit them to track you by requiring you to click more than one button to prevent it! They know you would rather accept (or ignore) the risk than have to click another button or (worse!) actually read something about your rights or their policies!
Be honest: how many times in the last 12 months since GDPR became Law (which every provider must comply with if they want to provide services to European citizens) have you seen some popup or dialog box that points out your rights and ask you to take 10-20 seconds to set the permitted behaviours? And how many times have you even looked to see what those permitted behaviours actually are?
I am in the comparative minority of people who always takes the few seconds required to pop open the relevant dialog, set the tracking permissions to the minimum allowed and then save. I can tell you it takes no more than 30 seconds (usually only about 5) and it only has to be done once per provider… so why wouldn’t I?
Of course, people who know me are convinced that I am almost paranoid about protecting my privacy online (I’m actually not, it just looks that way to ‘regular’ people because I actively care about it) so most will simply roll their eyes if I raise the subject.
So, especially for those people who think it is far too much effort to actively monitor and control what providers monitor, track and sell based on their online activity, here’s a useful tool and tip:
The website linked below allows you to see all of the providers who are currently tracking your activity on the device you access the link on.
You can easily see that there are dozens of providers listed. They all have ‘cookies’ of one sort or another on the device you’re accessing the link with. Scroll down. You’ll notice options on the left there is s one-click button that allows users to set all Providers to ‘OFF’. If nothing else, that stops them from tracking you on that device. If you visit one of the providers after setting it to ‘OFF’, it won’t make any difference to functionality (although you might be asked again to allow ‘cookies’ to be stored on your device).
For someone like me, who is conscious of online privacy, understands data gathering and knows what your behaviours can be used to tell me about you – and who is just as busy as most people – this is the perfect middle-ground… it allows me to periodically visit the above link, set all tracking to OFF and forget about it for a while (for me, that means once a week or so on each device I use but for you that could be every month or every day).
…and maybe my online paranoia will be less evident in future!