Do you remember the 1980s hit song by the Police, “Every Breath You Take”? If not, let me refresh your memory:
Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you
Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I’ll be watching you
To me, the lyrics always sounded rather creepy. Little did I know, they were simply ahead of their time.
Welcome to the internet.
OK, maybe I’m being a tad dramatic, but I wanted to get your attention about a troublesome 21st-century problem. A great deal of what you and I do on the internet is tracked. The semi-good news is, while it’s tough to stop the tracking completely, we can at least limit it.
Why should we do that? Because Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other companies take note of what we read, search for, and buy, and they use that information to manipulate us.
As we all now know, Facebook allowed (or at least, didn’t prevent) manipulative political ads by foreigners in 2016. That’s just one example.
Google uses its knowledge about us to provide search results likely to appeal to our predispositions. It’s easy to see how its algorithms can turn the internet into an echo chamber, reinforcing people’s beliefs, no matter how unsubstantiated they may be.
Amazon knows about everything we have saved in our shopping carts and constantly reminds us about purchases it might be better for us to put off or cancel.
The upshot of all this is that we are manipulated to spend our time and money in ways that are in internet companies’ and advertisers’ best interests, but not necessarily our own.
Online companies do make it possible to limit tracking, but they don’t always make it easy.
Here’s a great place to start. The Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos—appreciate the irony!) published two recent articles showing easy ways to tighten up your online privacy. There are links for limiting tracking by Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yahoo and even “smart” televisions and Wi-Fi routers.
Check out these articles—they are very much worth your time. Here’s to better—and more private—surfing!