In our exuberance to use the internet, we often forget about the consequences of what we do when we are connected. Unless you are paranoid—not a bad thing when using the internet—you don’t imagine someone tracking your every move.
When accessing the internet, we all use some type of browser. Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Sapphire are all browsers that have market share. Every one of them has some level of tracking capability. They give you some level of control, but the tracking is never turned off 100 percent.
Does our browsers’ record-keeping infringe on our rights? Over the last couple of years, civil libertarians have taken the big internet companies to court a number of times, especially in Europe, trying to get them to expose and define what they do with the information. This has had varied levels of success.
In addition to the browsers, the search engine companies also track and keep tabs on on where people are going and what people are doing on the internet. I have five websites, and each has a tracking code that tells me important information about who has visited the site. Although this information is anonymous, I still get a large amount of information on my visitors. And this is true of most sites.
Everyone has different interests and motivations for seeking information on the internet. So our online behavior is as unique as a fingerprint—and those fingerprints are traceable. I recently did an experiment on what I did on the internet. I turned off all of my protective systems on one of my laptops and went to work as normal. So from football to Shadowrun, from SEO to how-to’s on Windows, from booking hotels to mobile security, it was all there. Anyone who was collecting that information could learn an astonishing amount about me.
At the moment, there are very few systems that can turn this information into coherent data that mere humans can understand. But even that is changing with the introduction of “big data”.
Big data is the next step in the evolution of the internet. It is the ability to look at all of the information that is being generated on the internet, and turn it into something we can use to (hopefully) help mankind. Big data analysis was successfully used in the tracking of Hurricane Sandy in the USA. Researchers used information from multiple databases to predict where power outages would strike, among other events.
With millions of different and diverse data points, making sense of it is difficult—unless you have big data analytics. The phenomenon that is big data is not some huge relational database. It is a new concept that allows researchers and computer scientists to bring together large and unrelated data sets into something useful—like tracking wind speeds, ocean temperatures and terrain elevation to determine where a hurricane will make landfall.
There is a more sinister side to big data. That is the issue over privacy and having the ability to track your every move on the internet. That includes what you do, where you go, who you talk to and in some cases what you are like as a person. Most of us of heard about PRISM!
On the internet, we chat with friends, read the news, get work done, buy stuff—and leave a digital trail. That trail is easy to follow with the right tools. Who can follow yours?