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The Benefits of Being Spied On

Googled ‘soccer’ recently and now the websites you visit are spammed with soccer shoe ads? Your Facebook newsfeed is dominated by photos of soccer balls and shin guards, and you wonder, “WHAT THE HECK”?

This is the beginning of YOU BEING SPIED ON. Google tracks your data and uses it to customize online advertisements.

So how does it work?

Whenever you visit a website, a cookie stores browsing information, like the data you share in a profile, or site interactions and preferences.

Among those websites are search engines.

Google assigns a cookie ID to the specific browser used on a specific device. Based on the data stored in the cookie, (the websites you visit and the information you share) the browser is associated with demographic categories like age or gender.

Do it yourself            By default, all cookies are enabled – but you can change your privacy settings of the browser you use and delete or block cookies.
 

If this is the beginning – where does it end?

Ever notice that Google Doddle wishes you a Happy Birthday… Google always knows, even when your mom or special someone seems to have forgotten.

Doodle Happy Birthday Sarah

Google emphasizes that it does not associate demographics like “race, religion, sexual orientation, health or certain financial information” with an individual’s cookie.

Do it yourself           Go to Google Ad Settings and check out what Google knows about you, or opt-out of ads based on collected information. While it seems to know nothing about our intern Emilia (see below) my own settings look a lot different. 
Google Ad Settings
Ironic is : the opt-out setting is stored by your browser in a cookie – if you delete your cookies, you will get customized ads again.
 

But, that said, there are indeed some benefits of being spied on.

  1. Website developers (like Ironistic) want to build websites you like, and remodel websites you don’t like.  Therefore we have to know our audience’s behavior and preferences.We would like to know how long users stay on the website, if the majority of visitors are new or returning visitors, what age and gender they are, if they use a mobile device (to know if the need for an app is there), the browser and network provider they use (to ensure compatibility), and what language the visitors speak  – so we can address their needs and adapt the style, design and layout.
  2. Anyone who works in the field of search engine optimization would be unemployed if search engines wouldn’t collect data. What would we do without Google and Moz Analytics?
  3. Search engines want to know what results you like – so they can rank the results by relevance, specifically for YOU.

How come you only scroll through the first page of search results? How do you know these are the most important and significant results? Because search engines interpret your behavior. Because your results are customized.

For example, when a significant number of visitors leave a website right after opening the search result– this tells the search engine the result was not a good match for that search query. If this happens frequently, the page will decrease in rank for the specific keyword – because it is obviously not the most relevant result.

Maybe we should see online data tracking more as user surveys. It is not unusual to have user surveys in order to improve client experience. Without feedback – how would search engines know what you like or what you don’t?

Google ’Thai Restaurant’. Isn’t it nice that you don’t have to dig through millions of Thai Restaurants throughout Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States before finally finding one that is at least somewhat close-by?

So how does Google know where you are? Your IP address and host name is stored in a cookie accessible to websites.

Do it yourself            This website here shows what it knows about your IP and your geophysical address. It also has a tool where you can find the physical location of an IP address.

Data Tracking Scale

I guess everyone has to decide individually where all this has to be placed on our scale from creepy to awesome.

Our founder, Chris Foss, shares his own internal debate and concerns about Internet Privacy. Read his ‘Obsession’ here.

Just a heads up – if you still complain about Google knowing too much, you should be aware of the company’s mission. In the letter of the founder, Larry Page explains that they want your results to be even more personalized. This is the idea behind Google Now.  “It provides information [you seem to be interested in] without you even having to ask.”

Send us your comments below to share your thoughts on data tracking…. Do you find it creepy, or awesome?


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