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Pros and Cons of being tracked online

Kerry Sumner

Kerry Sumner

Kerry is the Lead Designer at The Evolved Group. Kerry is a passionate champion and advocate for UX, ensuring the end user’s experience lies at the heart of all our projects.

The subject of online tracking and the sharing of personal information with companies is highly controversial.

We recently conducted a survey at The Evolved Group to find out how much we cared about being tracked online.

Do you care about being tracked online? Infographic

As might be expected, the majority of us were security conscious to some degree. Nearly 20% of us take our personal online security very seriously; turning off geo-tracking, making sure our phones and apps have the highest privacy settings applied and avoiding social media.

But at the other end of the scale, a fair few are happy to be tracked, listened and remarketed to.

So what are the pros and cons of allowing companies to track you?

Pro

Pro: You can get great deals

I’m a fan of remarketing and try to make it work for me. I will often leave items in my shopping cart, waiting for the reminder email and the “buy now” discount offer. A win for me! And a win for the company as they just made a sale.

Annoyingly this doesn’t work for flights. In fact, it’s often the opposite. If you have recently looked at flights, the airlines may start to increase the price, to encourage you to purchase before the price goes up again.

Tip

Try searching in incognito when looking for flights. Switching to “incognito browsing” means that the pages you search won’t appear in your browser or search history. They won’t leave traces like cookies on your computer. But even if you do go “incognito,” websites may still collect or share information about you. Especially if the company is Google…

Con

Con: The deals are not always relevant

While a bargain can be great, I don’t always want to be followed around the internet and reminded of my late-night shopping searches because of retargeting! Importantly, ads are served up based on my past search history, so I don’t get to discover new stuff. Amazon is good at giving you suggestions of what you might like based on previous purchases or what other customers have bought. Well, I’ll be the judge of that (but yes, I would like those new headphones and the case to go with them)!

And it’s not just ads that are biased. Facebook is tailoring stories for my newsfeed that they think will entertain and inform me. We are more likely to trust and enjoy posts that are liked and shared by our friends and family. A recent study by Reuters found that 54% of people under 35* use social media as their source of news about politics and government.

As we have seen in recent years, the danger of this is in the creation of online ‘echo chambers’, where debate and critical thinking take a back seat to often sensationalist (or just plain false) stories and posts. 

If you haven’t already, watch the Netflix documentary ‘The Great Hack’, about the data company Cambridge Analytica and their influence of election results via the manipulation of social media. You might find yourself questioning whether or not to keep your Facebook account open

Tip

Ever get weird products marketed to you while on Facebook and wonder what on earth did I search to get that? In Facebook you can click on the three dots on the ad and select why am I seeing this ad to find out why!

Pro

Pro: It can make managing your life online easier

One sign in to rule them.

With Google or a Facebook account, you can have one sign in for all your apps. No longer do you have to worry about what password or email address you signed up with. All my apps and devices work with each other giving me a fully connected life. I buy tickets to a gig using Apple pay, tickets go to my Apple wallet, the date goes into my calendar, and I can share on social media and see who else is going to the gig.

Con

Con: All my apps and devices talk to each other! Do they really need to know everything about me... Google?

Here at The Evolved Group, our CEO Garreth decided to go ‘smartphone free’ for a month; using a retro Nokia that could only make calls, send texts and play ‘Snake.’ A few others have taken up the challenge and all found it much harder than they anticipated.

Kashmir Hill went one step further, cutting Google out of her life entirely. You can read here about the unexpected consequences; trying to get across town with Uber or Lyft and realising they all rely on Google Maps, no longer being able to listen to Spotify or even view Airbnb photos.

Con

Con: It can leave you very exposed

Perhaps the biggest con for all of us is identity theft – how much personal information are you willing so to show on your profile?  Name, birthday, place of work… not to mention your financial information for payments. These risks increase significantly the more you share online.

Tip

How to manage your privacy online if you’re concerned about what is being tracked:

  • If you have a Google account go to google.com/dashboard to view all personal data collected so you can delete or opt-out of Gmail, groups, web history, YouTube analytics, docs, map and profile info
  • To opt-out of behavioural ad targeting (interest-based ads) go to google.com/ads/preferences
  • Delete all tracking cookies and browsing history from your computer and similar devices. Cookies can be removed by following directions in your Internet browser’s “help” file.
  • Understand the technology you use so that you can turn off tracking in items such as mobile phones, GPS cameras and GPS systems.

Do the pros outweigh the cons? Is sacrificing your data in order to get those cheaper headphones really worth it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts – take the poll and leave a comment below!

Do you care about being tracked online?

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