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Case Analysis: Digital Trends

We manage well in the brick and mortar world on what to show and whom to show. Use the same logic in your digital life too

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Should Amrita worry about the kind of ads on her page or has she missed the woods for the trees? We all have questions similar to those of Amrita’s. When we surf the net, or check Facebook on the mobile phone, we tend to believe we are alone, that our life is private. But, in reality, that is not true. Everyone is getting tracked on the Internet. The question is, who is tracking. The answer is: everyone. First, the website you are visiting — they know who you are mostly by your login credentials. Second, your Internet service provider who routes your request from your house to the server, and third, all the advertisers who have ad spaces on any website. They track what you click, what you choose, how long you stay on a page, where you travel next (which page) among other things.

Good news is that these advertisers do not track personal information but very close to knowing what the person likes or dislikes. They do know what you clicked, your location (mobile or laptops), surfing patterns — what you visit in the morning, what you watch in the evening. This data can be analysed to create and slot you into a profile group.

For example, if advertisers gather information that you are visiting car-buying websites and also visit a webpage for instructions on how to get a drivers’ license, then the tracking companies sell the information to insurance companies to target you with specific offers assuming you will buy a new car.

The next question, therefore is, how do we secure ourselves? In my view, this may not be the right question. In the brick and mortar world, we notice that there is a person using a clicker to count how many people entered a supermarket or which aisle is most visited or if a sales person stops to ask us why we preferred brand A over brand B. Now, would you stop going to a grocery store because you are being watched? Here is the thing: the grocery store knows that the 25-35 age group shops on weekdays, after office; but they don’t know who exactly you are or your preferences, your repeat choices, your rejections.

Therefore, the real question in today’s digital age is “How do we make ourselves less vulnerable?” A few pointers listed here could help you:

— The most common activity on the Internet is browsing. Clean your browsing history and cookies often.

— If you have multiple users using the same computer, then delete browsing history before you give your computer to others. This can be done using programmes built in your browser. Or you can use deep cleaning programmes such as CCleaner.

— To avoid any hassle of cleaning every time you browse, use “private” or “incognito” mode, more so, if you are surfing on public computers; you do not want to leave any crumbs. But not everything is incognito: your employer, your ISP, are in the know.

— The most common place your preference is tracked is the search engines. Use search engines that don’t track you, like DuckDuckGo.

—Avoid over-sharing information on social networks — location check-in, or posting every photo on Instagram, etc. Every photo you take from your cellphone has geo-tagging, which means you are not just sharing your photo but also the location where it was taken. Be smart. Open camera settings and turn off location.

—Avoid IP address being sent to the trackers by using special browsers that hide these details.Use ‘Tor’, a downloadable software, which scrambles your IP address and disguises your location.

Now, you are almost “private” with these options but do you want to be ‘private’ with no help or ‘public’ with lots of help but no privacy? Just like, whether you want a full-time maid with lot of help but less privacy? Or no maid, all the privacy but you have to do everything yourself?
The Internet is not the lone stalker. The IoT (internet of things) or smart devices are the next big thing — a smart TV records your TV viewing patterns or smart locks tracks your entry/exit pattern, etc.

We are living in the Internet era and like I mentioned earlier, the question is not how you can avoid this invasion of privacy but what can you do to control information leak. We manage well in the brick and mortar world on what to show and whom to show. Use the same logic in your digital life too. Beef up security!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Rajiv Batra

The writer is a General Manager and Global client partner with Wipro Technologies and is based in USA. The views expressed are his own

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