This is the true story about a girl who accessed 103 websites in 20 minutes. That’s approximately 12 seconds of surfing time per web page. This mayn’t seem incredible but consider this: she read 2 articles on National Geographic, looked through the past 3 hours’ worth of tweets (on both of her twitter accounts), shared a recipe on Facebook and completed her online readings for her studies. Remember, she had only 12 precious seconds for each website. The figures above are accurate, yet something is not adding up. This is because she visited only 10 websites voluntarily. The remaining 93 connections were made unknowingly with third party websites.
The images compare the websites I knowingly accessed versus the volume of websites I was actually connected with.
I would like to discuss my experiences using Firefox’s Lightbeam add-on. To put concisely, Lightbeam tracks the sites that normally track you and it graphs the connections you are making to websites in real time. I linked to numerous third party sites like typekit.com, fyre.com, wonderloop.me and outbrain.com. I was surprised to find some of these websites actually interesting. For example, wonderloop.me is a network where users create a profile with only twenty seconds of video. It’s a “tool” to drive users to social media websites based on connections they make.
There are also invasive third party websites like outbrain.com which track a user’s online movement to create a detailed profile of their interests. These online profiles are then used to find related content so the user will continue the cycle of clicking, reading (or watching, buying, etc.) and repeat.
A social issue with being tracked online is a breach of privacy rights as your information is collected and distributed worldwide without consent. Today you’re e-mailing a friend about the golf clubs you bought and tomorrow there is an advertisement on your browser for Wilson golf clubs. To fuel our concerns about privacy, these websites might have offices out of country. Outbrain has locations in Tokyo, Madrid, Munich and Paris; each of which have different privacy laws.
As I continue to browse online, my Lightbeam graph will expand and I will leave bits of myself on each website. And not unlike dating websites, I will be paired with online advertisements tailored specifically for me. And similar to a long distance relationship, my personal information will be shared overseas. The only difference is my relationship to third party websites can’t be broken.