In my last post I talked about how Google has an insane amount of information on your personal web browsing trends. Google is not the only one. The majority of websites and search engines are tracking your every move while you are surfing their pages. They want to know what you are doing, where you are going, and what you like to see. It’s creepy.
And what happens to all of this data?
Most companies just use the data to track their ROI (return on investment) so they can prove what they are doing is working. This actually helps to improve user experience as well as improve the sites ability to convert users, which can mean making a sale or getting you to sign up for something.
Search engines are also looking to target specific ads to a user based on data they receive. When I look at an email from my bank in Gmail I get ads for mortgage refinancing and payday loans. If I search for ‘books’ on Bing or Google I get sponsored links online book stores.
Let’s try and equate this to something in the real world.
Say you go into Target, just browsing for some stuff. As you are walking through the store there is someone following you with a clipboard, noting everything you do. Everything you look at, how long you are looking, and what you put in your cart. As you are shopping they give you recommendations based on your behavior. “Hey I noticed you like these shoes. You might also like this product.”
This would be annoying to most people and an invasion of personal space, but online it is considered a convenience. I wonder what the mentality is. Are people so accepting, or are they just ignorant of what is actually happening as they shop online? No one would want someone following them around the store tracking everything they do. That would be weird.
But online that is exactly what is happening. Why is it ok there? Is it because you can’t see a person physically following you? It’s not like you have a clear option to turn this tracking off either. I looked into Amazons’ conditions of use and found nothing actually saying that they are tracking data as you browse.
The closest real world comparison to online tracking would be your QFC Advantage card or other grocery club card. But it has nowhere near the detail that online tracking can provide. These cards are given freely to you for store discounts. Every time you use them your complete transaction is recorded. Now the company may be able to target you with specific coupons, or stock up on certain items based on shopping behavior. This action is treated similarly to online shopping though. If you don’t see someone/something actually recording your behavior, then you don’t seem to care.
My point is that next time you are browsing online be conscious of what you are doing and try to understand that the big bot in the cloud is watching everything you do.
P.S. This is only such a small tip of how you are being tracked on the internet. I haven’t even discussed Facebook and their new social graph model, and how it changes everything. Coming soon…