MICHAEL IRENE, PhD
Michael Irene is a data and information governance practitioner based in London, United Kingdom. He is also a Fellow of Higher Education Academy, UK, and can be reached via email@example.com; twitter: @moshoke
Have you ever used your device, for example, your mobile phone, to purchase a particular item and some moments later when you shift to your laptop you see an advert about the same item or something similar? Or have you ever checked a particular site for an item and then you begin to see adverts about this item wherever you turn to on the internet? If yes, then you’re being tracked via various means. That’s the new modus operandi in this new clime which raises a lot of privacy questions and yet, companies ignore these privacy implications and consumers pay less attention to this.
Users/consumers are tracked online and through their devices. What’s worse, information is leveraged to provide targeted advertisements to consumers based on their interests, characteristics, and internet footprints. If you visit a site today, you might see that most companies rely heavily on legitimate interests and if consumers don’t allow the company to place these cookies, they might not be able to use this site. The prevalent existence of these forced acceptance of cookies is against the transparency and fairness principle of data protection regulation.
Let’s dig deep into these tracking methodologies and their types. First is the cross-device tracking. This practice is mapping the user as she moves between devices. Companies achieve this through what is called deterministic tracking (a method that allows an organisation to track user’s devices based on certain information, like device they used to log-in and when they logged-in, what they did when they logged-in). This is common practice, but not enough consumers understand the level of this intrusiveness. For companies practising this, it is important to be clear about this methodology and what’s more, consumers should know how to remove these cookies from devices or risk being tracked by various vendors.
Another intrusive one is for companies to use what is called digital fingerprinting, which is a technique used to identify individuals based upon information collected automatically when a user visits a website. For example, and without mentioning names, there is a particular real estate company that places so many cookies on a user’s website to track the consumer behaviour and sometimes these tracking doesn’t have a time limit. As such, some customers if they don’t disable these cookies will forever be tracked by vendors. In this example, from my investigation, this established real estate company has over nine-hundred vendors.
Advertising networks and data brokers tap extensively into these tracking methodologies for many good reasons like boosting revenues and companies can argue that these cookies help them to better serve consumers better.
However, there seems to be a lack of moral ethics. For example, most companies internally don’t have clear retention schemes and deletion methodologies. Without the action taken by customers it’s possible that consumers will live with such cookies without their knowledge. For the sake of meeting the principles of fairness and transparency it is important for companies to inform data subjects on the best ways to opt-out of this tracking; and put in place various technical means for there to be a review of how cookies are managed within companies. Consumers too must ensure they clean cookies from their devices to avoid being tracked.
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