In today’s era of digitalisation, it is necessary for internet users to realise that they are being tracked online. But many are unaware of the fact that every click they make contains information that is sold to advertisers. The advertisers, in turn would wage real-time bidding wars for their attention.
Ahmad Bashir, a doctoral student at the Northeastern University developed a new technique to discover the extent to which personal data gets funneled to online advertising companies. He found that these companies communicate with each other to share personal data. In fact, tools designed to protect privacy such as ad blockers are not very effective. According to Bashir, the system needs to be more transparent, and the users should be aware of what is happening with their data. He recently co-authored a paper on this topic with Northeastern professor Christo Wilson titled Diffusion of User Tracking Data in the Online Advertising Ecosystem.
The websites remember more than just usernames. They build portfolios of their visitors. For instance, they might build a portfolio based on the items that visitors purchase or add to their online shopping carts. Users are unaware that third party trackers could be collecting data about the websites they frequently visit. All this information are sold by the advertisers to the highest paying bidder.
“In a process known as real-time bidding, advertisers are constantly competing against each other to flaunt their products and services on your screen”, says Bashir.
A better understanding of the extent to which advetising companies are sharing user information will help lawmakers create better cyber security policies and tools. The ultimate goal is to make online advertising more transparent, which will enable users to make more informed decisions about how they choose to protect their personal data.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman