Collusion: Why It Always Feels Like Someone’s Watching You

Collusion Graph

Collusion Web Graphs illustrate which websites are feeding third parties information about your web browsing habits.

Above is a graph detailing data recovered from a 20-minute browsing spree in which I visited a variety of websites including: Google, Twitter, Facebook, Imgur, and YouTube. Unbeknownst to me, 20-30 other websites were also privy to my online surfing, with some possibly even relaying personal data through to 3rd party channels.

To be honest, I’m not too concerned by this revelation. After some minor investigation on some of my “trackers” the majority appear to be sites that use hidden cookies for ad networking/targeting. In a way, these trackers could be considered less annoying telemarkers. They still want you to eventually buy into something, but they’re not absolutely in your face.

As a retail employee, I ask customers to voluntarily relay their phone numbers and email addresses during every shift. The company I work for claims to use this information for “customer retention” and email marketing purposes, but who knows where all that data ends up.

The website that appears to link the most cookie trackers is Imgur. This is an online community that hosts the images for one of the world’s more popular internet forums, Reddit. Imgur hosts a lot of content, some paid for, while the majority is user submitted. As such, its understandable that there are external sites “piggy-backing” on the popularity of the site. Because I don’t actually operate an account with Imgur so I can’t comment or contribute any posts, I’m really not too worried about what they’re tracking.

I believe that we are on the brink of really discovering just how much of an issue our lack of understanding surrounding digital security really can be. That’s why its pretty great to know there are apps/tools like Collusion available to online users for free.

Minding your Digital Manners

Letters can be burned and texts can be erased, but post something online and it will stay there forever. A scary thought and very real reality in today’s digital age.

Don’t get me wrong, I think social media is one the most fantastic accomplishments of the 21st century. Never before have people all around the world been this connected to each other. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are just some of the online platforms digital users employ to share and exchange content, generate discussion and drive global interaction. However, with great opportunity comes an even greater responsibility, and not everyone can handle this double-edged sword.

Enter “netiquette” or digital etiquette; essentially a set of unofficial guidelines that are followed by internet communities, dealing with what is acceptable behaviour online. Learning basic netiquette is a definite must for any new social network user. It is near impossible to express oneself the same way in person as one can behind a screen.

Netiquette 101:

  1. Let some things remain a mystery. This includes any and all personal and financial information. Be wary with how much personal content you share with others because its always more than just your friends who are privy to those postings. Third-party marketers have been known to pay social media platforms for access to your info for better targeting specific demographics.
  2. Stop, think, read over… and then post. Often times, its not a good idea to simply post on a whim. One must consider the weight and effect a comment will have on your readers. As an example, sarcasm and some humour do not translate well through mere text. Think carefully about what you are sharing and be prepared for backlash should the material spark some discontent.
  3. Over-sharing can be a burden. Try not to flood your others’ feeds. People tend not to enjoy reading about every minute detail of your day. Not to mention, it will definitely lose you followers or at least annoy your more forgiving ones.
  4. Be open to debate. If someone asks for an opinion, its best not to shove your views/ideas down their throat. Generating creative and thoughtful communication with your social peers should be one’s ultimate goal when joining a discussion. Take the opportunity to both educate and learn from constructive dialogue.

As a student in today’s tech savy society, rarely a day goes by that I am not in some way connected to social media. Perhaps unbeknownst to many, is the fact we are actively relying more and more on social media to get us through the day. Perhaps this new reality isn’t too wonderful either as echoed in this Zen Pencils cartoon rendition of a Marc Maron podcast.