Skip to Main Content

How do I track thee? Let me count the ways

If Elizabeth Barrett Browning was working as a data broker, the poetess could still write her famous Sonnet 43. But forget about love, she would be talking about the “depth and breadth and height” of modern tracking.

Poets may write about love, but modern life – especially when it comes to the internet – is all about the data. Under the cover of a free internet, there is an array of technologies deployed with the singular goal of collecting information about you. One could say that “freely and purely” is how they like their data.

Tracking is for your own good, remember that

By weaving together data on internet use, interests, payments, the location of your device – and a few other sources of data – data brokers build customized user profiles for targeted ad campaigns and more. It just begs the question if you as the operator of a device want to be so closely tracked – or if you have actually consented to the collection of this data. In the recent case of SilverPush surveillance tracking technology, the FTC and Avira have made it clear that getting user consent is a requirement, not an option.

Eyeballs are just the start

In the early days of the internet, the primary user statistics were “eyeballs” a measurement of how many people saw the page. Since then, the tracking technologies have gotten much more sophisticated to include canvas, cookies, super cookies, tracking pixels, beacons, and audio beacons. The data they collect on you can include the IP address and the MAC number of your device, your location, and more.

It’s not the technology, it’s the you

Beyond this specific technology, one way to start identifying and blocking trackers is to use the Avira Scout browser with Privacy Badger. This feature, developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, helps block spying ads and trackers. By also showing you the trackers that it blocks, it also helps gives you a visible portrait of just how big the tracking industry is.

As an everyday computer user, it is critical to realize that all of your online activities are being monitored. While this could be as seemingly altruistic as better advertisements, it could be more nefarious. You really never know.

There are four major problems with data brokers and their data collection:
1. They sometimes don’t ask for your permission
2. They collect more data than you would think possible
3. Once collected, there are no restrictions on the resale of this data

Yes, once the information is out, there is no way to recall it or regain your privacy.

The poetry of data is eternal

So if Elizabeth Barrett Browning was in the data business, and she was to update Sonnet 43, it might look something like this:

How do I track thee? Let me count the ways.

I follow thee to the depth and breadth and height

My trackers can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and an ideal web.

I track thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet search, by sun and display-light…


This post is also available in: GermanFrenchItalian

As a PR Consultant and journalist, Frink has covered IT security issues for a number of security software firms, as well as provided reviews and insight on the beer and automotive industries (but usually not at the same time). Otherwise, he’s known for making a great bowl of popcorn and extraordinary messes in a kitchen.