If we had a dollar for every time the phrase “Google’s my best friend” gets blurted out by someone or other, we would be flying business class on every trip.
With terms and conditions on how online platforms appropriate the use of our data neatly tucked away within ignorable fine print, it’s concerning when our latest searches “coincidentally” appear on our personal feed. While some would dismiss this as part and parcel of being connected to the World Wide Web, others cry foul on the invasion of their privacy. Either way, one should be able to opt out. But first, how does this happen?
We Already Know What Google Knows
It would come as little surprise to many that Google knows a lot about their users. After all, the search giant is in the business of advertising, with its success largely dependent (and it is unquestionably highly successful) on how much it knows about you. Your habits. Your preferences. What you are into at any given period. Where you are (think Google Maps!). The list goes on.
What Facebook Knows
If you think about it, Facebook is an advertiser’s/marketer’s dream. Nowhere else do people offer so much voluntary information such as their age, gender, the places they visit, their marital status, whether they have kids, their likes, and much more.
That’s the obvious part. What many don’t know is that the company also tracks virtually every other website you visit. Facebook knows every time you visit, “like”, or “share” a page. Facebook Pixel provides publishers a tool that allows both parties to track visits from any Facebook user. It also works with companies like Epsilon and Acxiom and gathers a wealth of information from government records, warranties, surveys, and commercial sources (such as a magazine subscription lists) to learn more about their users.
All this information provides analysts enough material to make assumptions on your preferences and such. Although not always accurate, advertisers will still pay big money to get ahead in their industry, gambling that at least part of the information is correct.
How Google Comes In
These are essentially small snippets of data specific to a particular client and website, and can be accessed either by the web server or the client computer.
From this, it can be assumed that it’s not so much Google searches that are being tracked but more the sites one visits at any particular time. These sites plant cookies in one’s IP address to appropriate or market to at a later stage.
How Can You Stop This (Assuming You Want To)?
Another way users can stop Facebook from collecting unwanted information on them for advertising purposes is to make sure that they log out of sites after they are done surfing the net. Ultimately, there’s always the platform’s advertising opt-out page, which will not stop it from gathering information about you but will prevent the ads from being displayed on your feed. You can access the page here.
At the end of the day, both Google and Facebook make the lion’s share of their revenue from advertising, and they will continue to do so regardless of whether we attempt to avoid this or not. Most of us choose to make this trade-off, as these companies provide unparalleled services that make everyday tasks so much easier. Unfortunately, in doing so we end up losing some of the privacy we so value.