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Thinking inside the box

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How to Escape Online Spies

Nobody likes being spied on. When you’re innocently browsing the web, it’s deeply unpleasant to think that faceless technology corporations are monitoring and recording your every move.

While such data collection is legal, that doesn’t mean it’s all right. There are plenty of things you might prefer to keep to yourself, such as your income, your sexuality, your political views or your membership of the Yoko Ono fanclub. For an indication of what can be inferred from your online habits, take a look at the Apply Magic Sauce tool produced by Cambridge Psychometrics Centre, which produces a profile of your personality based on Facebook and Twitter data.

And while you might console yourself with the knowledge that all of this information is mostly used for targeting ads, that might not be the case for much longer. The internet giants are building up ever more detailed user profiles – and finding new ways to exploit that information. In the Observer, Carole Cadwalladr’s ongoing investigation has highlighted how analytic techniques were used in the recent EU referendum to target and craft messages to groups of persuadable voters based on psychological insights gleaned from online data.

Even if you are relaxed about analytics companies gaming the political process, you may be more bothered about the effect on your wallet: researchers at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia have already found evidence that some online retailers use profiling to discriminate against certain customers. If you’re identified as a high-value shopper, you’re likely to be steered towards more expensive products, or even charged more than other visitors for the same item.

And that’s just the start of it. Experts warn that, in the future, your online activity could be taken into consideration when you apply for a loan – or for a job. That’s troubling, not least because profiling involves a large element of assumption and inference. Something as innocent as searching for a medical condition – even out of mere curiosity – could cause your insurance premiums to rocket, and you’ll never know why.

Even if you’ve nothing to hide, therefore, it may be wise to minimise your exposure to online tracking. Here’s how some of the biggest names on the web spy on you – and how to protect your privacy.

Source: The Guardian

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