Trackers are ubiquitous. Stalkers are creepy. Definitions for stalker vary and range from someone who gives too much attention to you, to a hunter hunting game. As the internet has developed from information superhighway to misinformation superhighway, we have become the game for stalkers.
Most people do not understand how the internet works, how easy it is for technology companies to track people online, what websites do to promote such tracking, and what trackers do with information they take from users and readers. Here here is a quick look at the kings of online stalkers.
Not everyone who uses the internet these days knows or understands the complexities of online tracking systems. From Google to Apple, from Facebook to Amazon, tracking customers and users online is a highly profitable and a highly suspect endeavor. Their yield is money and distrust.
Instead of tracker, let’s use a different term: stalker.
noun: stalker; plural noun: stalkers
Fair enough? The definitions…
a person who harasses or persecutes someone with unwanted and obsessive attention.
“Tracy claimed she was the victim of a stalker”
a person who hunts game stealthily.
“a keen fisherman and deer stalker“
Clearly there are multiple meanings of the term stalker which can be applied in a variety of instances. Let me use just one. Online tracking.
When you’re online, connected to the internet through a local ISP, your cell phone company, or Starbucks’ Wi-Fi, you’re being tracked by many entities. Google does it with search engine and advertising. Apple does it through device usage and advertising. Facebook does it the moment you login. Amazon does it across the internet. All of them capture a variety of user information, and all can identify you by name, address, occupation, age, health, wealth, and more– something of a secret online dossier, if you will.
These are the Kings of Online Stalkers.
Google – the search engine giant knows more about you than you probably know about yourself as it mixes and matches data from your searches, applications you use, your locations, your Gmail email account, and ads you view while viewing websites. Google has many partners which share tracking data, ostensibly to provide you with better search results– so long as those results end in a purchase somewhere online. To Google, you’re not a customer. You’re part of the product. Most of Google’s money is made from advertising.
Facebook – If there was a vice president of Stalking, it would be Facebook. The website has over 2-billion active users. That’s about 1 person out of four on planet earth, and each time you turn on Facebook and browse around, Facebook follows you. The company knows who you like, who you share with, the content contained in your photos, what other websites you visit and when, and uses that culled information to form an online profile of you, your family, and about everything there is to know about you. To Facebook, you’re a user, but part of the product Facebook sells– advertising. All that data tracking gets Facebook ever increasing advertising revenue.
Amazon – Of the big four on my list, Amazon makes its money the old fashioned way. It sells products. But Amazon is one of the internet’s largest trackers. Search for pajamas or skateboard on Amazon; even save a few items in your cart. Over the next few weeks you’ll see websites with advertising for… insert drum roll here… pajamas, skateboards, or anything else you searched for online. Amazon knows who you are, where you live, how much money you make, your occupation, and how much you have to spend.
Apple – I saved the best for last. Apple is less of an online stalker than it is an enabler of stalkers. 40-percent of all mobile devices these days carry an Apple logo. Apple has a partnership with Google to keep the Google search engine the de facto default search engine on the popular Safari browser. How much? This year, about $3-billion of pure profit. Apple doesn’t need to track your searches online because Google pays for the privilege. Likewise, Amazon has multiple apps on the App Store, Facebook is iPhone and iPad’s default social network. Apple is an enabler of online stalkers and benefits monetarily from such collusion.
I love Apple’s well designed products and how software and hardware work together in a cohesive ecosystem of user experience, privacy, and security. Privacy? Maybe I need to take that off the list because Apple seems to be consorting with known online stalkers these days. Why doesn’t Apple give customers more tools to avoid being tracked and stalked online by the likes of Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
Money. Apple profits from close association with the other Kings of Online Stalkers.