Sunday 8 August 2010

Who's watching you on the internet?

A couple of weeks ago I bought a new pair of Converse trainers, before doing so I had a look on the official Converse website to check the name and style of the trainers I wanted.

A few days later having bought the trainers, I logged onto Facebook. I wasn't on there for long, but I couldn't help noticing the number of adverts that appeared on the side of the screen advertising Converse trainers.

Somewhere in the internet world it was noted that I'd been looking for a pair of Converse.

I didn't descend into a panic, but it made me think that someone or something was monitoring my internet movements. I have to say I wasn't totally comfortable with this.

It looks like I'm not alone. In today's Sunday Times they had a report entitled 'Every click you make, They'll be Watching You'

The report looked at the growing unease many people now have about secret internet devices that monitor and store details on their internet activity.

The Times report said this type of monitoring is known as 'behavioural advertising'. Your internet use can be tracked and information on your internet activity can then be sold to advertisers. They can then bombard you with advertising based on the type of websites you've been clicking on.

When I hear about such things I instantly think the worst. It's the thin end of the wedge, that if taken to its logical extreme will only lead to an encroachment of people's privacy.

I was relieved to hear there are other critics and campaigners out there, arguing against the use of this kind of data monitoring.

They've warned it could lead to us all living in a more surveillance style society. One where increasing amounts of information on people are collected and made accessible to other companies, organisations, and people.

You can't deny that the internet has probably been one of the greatest inventions in our lifetime, but when I read stories like this it reminds me of some of the dangers that exist with the internet.

Today it might be a group of over zealous advertisers, tomorrow, it could be governments monitoring our movements. Call me paranoid, but this is how these things begin.

Hopefully we won't get to that stage, but if you're like me and you're worried about this internet stalking, there are a few things you can do.

The main one is to monitor and delete your 'cookies'. What are cookies I hear you ask? This is the software that keeps a record of the websites you visit.

They're mainly harmless and keep information on your usernames and passwords for various websites, but cookies are a footprint of your internet activities.

Go to 'Tools' and then 'internet options' on your computer. This then gives you the chance to delete your internet browsing history along with your recent cookies.

I do normally delete these cookies every few months. But reading this report has made me think I need to do it more often. I'm not having people following me as I wander around the internet.

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