As a generation that grew up with the web, it should come as no surprise that security, safety, and privacy while surfing the web are never guaranteed–unless actively sought after. While going about your normal online activities you can bet that third-party websites are just as malicious in collecting and using your personal information as the websites you knowingly give information to.
Information is today’s commodity. Websites and companies alike are eagerly buying, trading, and selling your information. The collection and interpretation of copious amounts of user data is known as “Big Data” and it should be known that it is something that is becoming central to the business strategies of many corporations.
In order to understand how far reaching my personal information extends I did a little experiment. Using Collusion, I browsed the internet for 20 minutes. Collusion is a browser plugin that tracks third-party websites that collect your information and visualizes it for you in a graph relative to the sites you visited.
Here is my Collusion graph taken from my Firefox Browser.
All orbs surrounded by blue are the actual sites I visited. In total I visited 9 websites:
All other orbs are sites I have not visited. The extending lines from the sites I visited to the ones I have not indicate that data about me has been sent to these third-party websites. The website that has the most third-party connections was thoughtcatalog.com. As you can see from the image below, the list is substantial and extensive.
Personally, I was not too outraged when I saw this. When third-party websites are tracking my search habits or collecting information about my inherent characteristics such as my age or gender, I admit that I am not alarmed. I do not consider the dissemenation of this information to be harmful to me. It is when someone, somewhere is able to extract much more personal information of more substance such as my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs without my consent or knowledge would I begin to consider taking action to block these third-party websites.
If you feel violated while browsing online you must make a conscious effort to protect yourself. Downloading a third-party website blocker, exploring your browser preferences to disable third- party cookies from certain sites and looking into “encryption software” are but of the few measures taken to stop the unauthorized dissemination of your personal information.