Beam Me Up and Away From These Cookies

internet, privacy

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 9.28.51 PM

Here are the facts:

I surfed the web for 20 minutes.

I visited 16 website during that time.

The circles are the sites that I actually visited.

The triangles are third party sites.

The white lines represent the connections made from the sites I visited to the third party sites that have content on the sites I visited.

The purple lines are connections that have cookies.

I know what you’re thinking. What do these words me? What do they have to do with me? Will I ever be able to successfully sleep with a top sheet without it being shoved to the bottom of the bed? Answer: probably not.

Well you better believe that I’m answer those first two questions right… now.

Let’s first start with third party sites. What the heck are they and what business do they have in my browser history?! Don’t worry, I’m a little confused too. These third party sites are typically ads or embedded external links for reference and “convenience”. The danger with third party websites is that some threaten privacy by collecting data about you.

Third party sites do this by using cookies.

Cookies are the tool that third party sites use to collect information about your browsing history. Some of this information can include your address and gender for example, but never includes your name (instead, you are assigned a number). These sites are used as an opportunity to boost advertising power by tailoring ads specifically to users.

Smart…but sneaky.

I collected data on my web searches using a Firefox add-on called Lightbeam and within a 20 minutes period I “visited” more third party sites than the sites I actually intended to visit. Among those visits, at least 30 cookies collected information about me without my knowledge.

With WikiLeaks and the NSA hacks that recently happened, I didn’t really think it was as big of a deal as people were making it out to be. Though this is not quite on the same level of that kind of hacking, I must admit that seeing this diagram as a visual representation of what is happening beyond the screen put things into perspective. Now knowing what cookies are how and how they access and collect information, it does scares me a bit. Personal information in the wrong hands or context can misconstrued and used against us; our privacy has become compromised.