We are still being tracked (‘cookies’) – time for more anonymity?
Director of Cyber Security and Technical Surveillance and Counter Measures Gurpreet S. Thathy reviews cookies’ privacy and security implications and the impact on your data.
When you send an email, run an online search, or share a photo on social media, you’re invariably leaving behind a trail of personal data that represents your ‘digital footprint.’ The data includes the activities you perform in apps and online and includes ‘physical’ data – such as location – as we take our devices with us just about everywhere we go.
Technology companies collect data about their users to customise their experience and make it easier for people to navigate online activities. However, users aren’t always aware of – or comfortable with – just how much personal information is collected. For example, some email providers can scan the contents of your private email messages, and your search provider can track your search history and the websites you visit. Further, once on a website, you are prompted to accept ‘cookies’ which come in 2 flavours – 1st party and 3rd party cookies. A 1st party cookie allows a site to observe your behaviour and market-specific content to you about their services; a 3rd party cookie grants access to a host of other companies (including advertisers or analytics platforms) to gain insight into your browsing habits. When you accept a 3rd party cookie, you immediately begin sharing information about yourself with external organisations – some of which are likely entirely unfamiliar to you.
All of this data – from your private email messages, search queries, location history, and even how you’re sitting or walking – represents your ‘digital footprint’ that provides a highly accurate and invasive profile. As such, increasingly, consumers are looking to protect their privacy by limiting 3rd parties from tracking their activities so they can navigate the online world with greater freedom and anonymity.
In 2021, technology companies took steps to deliver new privacy features that help limit digital tracking and give consumers more visibility and control. Apple started requiring user permission before allowing 3rd-party cookies in its iOS 14.5 updates, and Google announced it plans to phase out cookies in its Chrome browser. However, this has been delayed until the earliest 2023. This trend will continue with other technology companies sure to follow as privacy becomes top of mind for consumers. In 2022, expect to see a heightened focus on digital tracking and the need for solutions that offer greater privacy and anonymity for consumers.
Should you disable cookies in your browser?
Whether you want to disable the cookies or not, either decision comes with a compromise on your end. Knowing the advantages/disadvantages of disabling cookies in your browser, you will understand what option benefits you more. So, take a look at the advantages/disadvantages of disabling cookies in your browser:
- You have more privacy online
- Site owners won’t know how often you visit their site and won’t be able to include you in a user typology
- You will see fewer targeted ads
- You can still allow cookies manually on sites where you don’t mind sharing your data. Click on ‘Manage cookies/preferences’ when you see a pop-up asking you for cookie consent
- Each browsing session will look like you’ve just installed a new browser. You have to re-enter your login details, reset preferences, remember frequent URLs, add products to shopping carts again, and do all the repetitive things manually
- You will still see ads, but they will be less relevant to you
- Companies can still track you through other methods.
Are cookies good or bad?
1st-party cookies are generally acceptable to most people but not all. However, 3rd party (tracking) cookies are not suitable for many people. If you wish to protect your online privacy, you should consider disabling tracking cookies. But keep in mind that companies can still track you through other means. On the other hand, if you don’t mind companies getting information about you for marketing reasons, you can keep cookies active.
Knowing what data is being collected about you and how it is stored and used is one of the first steps in protecting yourself against security breaches. If you need any advice on your data or infrastructure, whether it’s physical devices or email accounts, contact Valkyrie at firstname.lastname@example.org
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