Do you ever wonder how, or to what extent, your online activity is being tracked? While browsing the internet, ads often pop up on the sides of webpages that are suspiciously similar to recent searches or website visits; this happens because internet activity is tracked and gathered through cookies placed by first or third-party trackers. Third-party trackers first appeared in 1998, and their presence has been steadily increasing ever since. Are cookies placed by trackers something we should be worrying about?
The European Union has been looking into the severity of online tracking, in terms of privacy infringement. Around 80% of Europeans feel it is important to be able to choose whether or not cookies should be allowed to track their activity. Cookies embedded in websites keep a catalog of your visits, down to which items you put in your shopping cart. Over time, the data consolidates and is able to describe your preferences and tendencies, which can then be used to display ads that will be the most likely to spark your interest. Third-party cookies are also commonly used to give the website an idea as to how people use their site. Companies like Google and Facebook are at the forefront of using this tracking technology, but the EU has proposed new rules that would limit accessibility to activity per the users request. These new propositions would prompt users to choose whether they want to allow or refuse tracking by cookies. The rules would even override the privacy policies in websites that require the user to agree to allow cookies if they want to continue using the site. The goals of these rules are to protect user privacy while offering a sense of transparency as far as how companies would be using the collected data. If this legislation passes, a key source of revenue for online advertisement companies would be drastically reduced.
How is the consumer affected by all of this? Some could argue that data collection this in-depth is a privacy issue that goes beyond what companies should be allowed to do. Others could argue in favor of tracking, due to the fact that data collected from the embedded cookies offers consumers products they would be most likely to purchase and enjoy. In the end, if the legislation passes and potentially expands to other regions, consumers will be afforded a choice as to whether they want to allow their online activity to be used.