Originally published: June 4, 2012
Last updated: June 4, 2012 - 5:50pm
An Amazon ad for a book by science fiction writer Cory Doctorow recently appeared on my computer screen. "What a coincidence!" I thought naively. I'd been reading an opinion item by Doctorow on Internet privacy (to be published this week as part of this month's Business Impact series) and had looked up his past writing. That was all it took for a crowd of ads to start following me.
The business story of our age -- the biggest story of any kind, arguably -- is how the Internet connects us. Part of being connected via technology is having an identity. It used to be a phone number. On the network, it's an IP address or the browser cookies that tell other computers who you are. The problem today is that anyone can use these tools to track you. Gary Kovacs, CEO of Mozilla, recently demonstrated Collusion, an add-on to the company's Firefox Web browser that lets you see who those anyones are. Kovacs says a who-knows-who of 150 entities was tracking his activity after one day of Web surfing. This crowd of hucksters and ad networks was following his nine-year-old daughter, too. Some people think tracking is creepy. Kovacs is one of them. He says that when we go on the Internet, we are like Hansel and Gretel leaving information breadcrumbs—birthdays, financial histories, relationship statuses—"everywhere we travel through the digital woods."
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