Shadow profiling: Data collections about you where it’s hard to opt-out

This article was written for NO LABEL PROJECT.

Do you have a Facebook profile? Some of you might say yes, but some try to avoid Facebook and never registered or deleted there account at some point. The truth is, you all have profiles at Facebook. They collect information about you all over the web and try to combine it. And that is not all. Many companies do such profiling like advertising networks or other social networks. Creating detailed profiles about you are their business models.

 

How they collect data

Many websites have share buttons below their articles and posts. The reasons why these buttons look the same everywhere is that they are not part of the website you are visiting. They come often directly from the services itself, means Facebook, Google, Twitter. So you visit websites of them without actually being aware of visiting them. And every visit creates the opportunity for them to collect data about you as described in the next part.

This methods work not only with share buttons, but also with ads, pictures and other parts of the website. In particular advertising companies and networks use this to be able to show everybody the perfectly fitting offer.

Did you ever wonder why Facebook asks you so annoyingly to use their Friend Finder? Not just to get new members for Facebook itself, also because it gives a lot of information about your and your friends. This is especially troubling since people send data about their friends to Facebook without their consent. Or did you ever hear from somebody who called his whole address book to ask whether it is fine with them to upload their data to Facebook? By the privacy policy of Facebook it is exactly what everybody needs do to before.

And we should of course not forget all the data we are leaving behind us by actively using online services. Not just social networks, but also all kinds of other like webshops as Amazon or ebay. This is all data which can be and sometimes is already sold to 3rd parties.

 

How they identify you

Just knowing that somebody visited a website doesn’t a create a profile yet. To do so, they need to link all these collected data. This can be done by various methods. We will explain four well known ones here.

The most easiest way is to look for your IP address. This is your main identification when connected to the Internet. Even so it is possible to get a different address each time you connect, many Internet Service Provides don’t change it too often.

Another well know method are so called cookies. Websites can save some information on your computer to make it easier to use by identifying you as the user. So you don’t need to login every time when you visit again, which is of course convenient. Because of the advantages it is an established web technology which should not condemned generally.

There is a special type of cookies: 3rd party cookies. These are from websites which do did not went to directly. On a website there can be links to other websites, opening a picture or other content from a different website. This is especially used to track you through different websites and has no real advantage for the user.

All the named technologies are quite old and the profiling industry is looking for more possibilities since many browers try to improve the privacy of their users by allowing to block different ways of blocking. A new way to identify users is called Browser Fingerprinting. There they use available information of your browser like installed plugins, supported MIME-types or fonts. Only these three named information can identify uniquely a user by 86,73%, as experts conclude. Only by deactivating technologies as Javascript or Flash the identification rate can drop significantly.

Nevertheless by using services again we make it pretty easy to connect all this data to us. One login at Facebook or Google and they know to whom they can link the web history they collected before. And we should not forget that there are already full grown industries dealing and trading our data. At the end all this create quite detailed profiles of ourselves.

 

How you can protect yourself

Reading all this you might think the only way to escape this is not to use the Internet at all. That is partially true and the only sustainably solution would be political regulation and data protection. Still there are a lot of small things you can do to make it much harder to collect and link your data.

In your Browser you can limit a lot already by using several add-ons and plugins. Step by step these features are also included in new browser versions, so it might only a change in the preferences when you read this article. A first hands-on list:

  • use an open source browser like Firefox
  • not allow 3rd party cookies in your browser (in Firefox, in Safari blocked by default, in Chrome)
  • remove all the cookies by ending your browser (in Firefox, in Safari, in Chrome)
  • block Social Network content on other websites (for example Facebook Blocker extension for Firefox, Safari, Chrome)
  • use an ad blocker (for example AdBlock for Safari and Chrome, do NOT use AdBlockPlus!)
  • use a general tracking blocker (for example Ghostery for Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome)

You know about other cool add-ons, extensions or plugins? Write it in the comments!

 

Privacy is something different generation define differently. So wrote the Guardian about current 13 to 17 year olds: “This generation has learned to function in a world of social surveillance.” Althought there are differnt views on privacy, they all require to have a choice which data we share and which we don’t. Shadow profiling takes this choice away and leaves us as dependent humans.

More information on you and your shadows can be also found at the Tactical Tech Collective.

Online collaboration tool for groups – Podio

The web based service lets you create workspaces where you share data, assign tasks and invite colleagues to meetings.

Podio is currently one of the best collaboration tools for groups. It combines a Groupware, Project Management Software and an Intranet.  It’s also accessible with mobile clients for iOS and Android. The most important feature is that it’s customizable with Apps. So you can easily add an expenditure app in your project workspace to collect all receipts.

Nonprofits have the possibility to get Podio sponsored (which means they can use it free of charge).

You can learn all the important basics about Podio in this video or more practical details in the one bellow:

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First published at the NO LABEL PROJECT website.

Online team coordination in different time zones – not a problem!

When you work with different people from all over the globe on one project, finding a date for a Skype meeting can be quite challenging.

Even small time differences matter if you work in Europe. Sitting in Brussels working together with two colleagues from Oslo and Sofia? You are already dealing with three time zones! Worldtimebuddy has helped us many times finding the right time to meet online. Give it a try.

Check out more online tools for you and your team under Online Tools section. And let us know in the comment bellow if you have some tips!

First published at the NO LABEL PROJECT website.