Chukwu starts his day by checking texts and emails, then scrolls through Twitter on his way to work, and posts a picture of himself on the bus. When he alights from the bus, he orders a meal from one of the local restaurants in his area. Then later, he checks out for the movie that would be showing in the cinema close to his house and looks up prices for some new shoes he had an eye on.
He has checked a few websites. What he doesn’t know is this, he leaves traces of his online activity. Behind every visit of his visits to these sites, he leaves behind traces that can allow these companies to track his online activities and collect his data as he moves through various websites.
As he continues, his normal activities online, he begins to notice web ads for those shoes he looked at and suggestions for the best place to go and eat around his area. Now, he is confused as to how these ads are targetted to his needs. What is working at the highest level is simply data tracking.
I must state here that not all data collection is bad. Some websites save data to better personalise individuals experiences on their website to improve how they serve individuals. Most companies would use “first-party” cookies to remember an individual’s language, contents in a shopping cart, and other preferences.
However, third parties cookies are used on websites to insert additional tracking methods to record what an individual reads online, what individual clicks online, and the sites an individual visits. This data collection is invisible to users and reveals more about the individual. Chukwu, as presented in this case, is pictured and everything about his identity can be deduced. That’s why he will get targeted ads and content on his smartphone.
Online tracking, these days, seems inevitable. It is the main way most online companies sustain themselves. It supports business systems and allows them to win customers.
Sometimes these online trackings are used to deliver useful and relevant ads. However, sometimes these tracking doesn’t offer users the real choice and control over their data and, in worse case scenarios, data brokers collect this data for their own mercantile purposes. Companies can use this data to build a surprisingly detailed profile of an individual.
There is a need by NITDA to combat these intrusive tracking methodologies. And, more so, to make individuals be aware of how companies can track their online behaviours. The complex relationship between users and their online existence should be devoid of excess intrusion as practiced by most companies.
There are healthy ways for companies to gather data online but there are unhealthy ways to collect consumer data too. But, the “good” company will tow the healthy way.
Regulatory bodies too must be active in fishing out companies that extract data in an unscrupulous manner. They must act to protect the freedoms and rights of the likes of Chukwu.
Frontpage December 12, 2017