How Online Tracking Cookies Create Family Profiles

In a blog post published today, Karen Kim, Mozilla Product Manager, detailed an experiment she conducted to see how many tracking cookies were set in her browser when she searched for a family trip to two adults and two children in Costa Rica.

By visiting several flight, hotel and car rental comparison sites and using Google to find tourist information, advice on traveling with children and product recommendations, Kim collected a total of 1,620 cookies. , of which about 20% were third-party trackers. cookies from analytics and advertising companies such as Google and Facebook. Kim concluded there was something “insidious” about the whole situation, saying, “In the act of planning a trip online without anti-tracking protection, someone now knows the age of your children, your partner’s interests, which family diving course you have booked and with whom.

While some cookies are crucial for the operation of modern websites, others are a bit more harmful. Good cookies track things like your preferred language and the contents of your shopping cart, and keep you logged in while browsing a site. Nobody really has a problem with these types of cookies – they are an integral part of the modern web. Without them, all but the most basic websites would stop working.

Third-party tracking cookies, on the other hand, are the type of cookies that privacy experts are most worried about. Combined with other types of tracking, they allow companies and data brokers to create incredibly detailed profiles of your online activities. In Mozilla’s blog, Kim said ad agencies may have linked the ages of her children to her partner’s interests and the tours she booked together. In theory, the information would have been anonymous because it would likely have been tied to a user ID rather than their name and address, but these anonymous profiles are surprisingly easy to anonymize.

Worse, however, is that the same companies could also have created profiles for his hypothetical children. This process starts early. Period and fertility tracking apps – which are currently under intense scrutiny due to the cancellation of the Roe V Wade in the US – are essentially starting to collect information about children before they are even born. . As their parents search the web for answers to parenting questions, to book vacations and everything in between, that profile grows. Some companies even collect and sell data on children while they take online courses. A pre-pandemic report revealed that by the time a child turns 13, more than 72 million pieces of personal data will have been collected about them. That number is almost certainly higher now.

To counter this, Kim suggests using Firefox which has Total Cookie Protection – a special browser mode that separates cookies to prevent third-party tracking cookies from following you across the web – enabled by default. However, most modern browsers now offer similar functionality. Safari blocks all cross-site tracking, including cookies, by default with a feature called Intelligent Tracking Prevention. Brave, Opera, and the new DuckDuckGo browser all use similar strategies to block third-party cookies while allowing websites to function normally. Even Microsoft Edge has an option, but you’ll need to enable its stricter settings. The only real obstacle is Google Chrome (unsurprisingly), but even that should start blocking them next year.

Cookies as a tracking tool are on the way out. Soon, only users with old and outdated versions of web browsers will be able to be tracked using them. The biggest problem, unfortunately, is that tracking continues to evolve. Soon there could be a whole range of alternative tracking tools that will have to be avoided. In particular, first-party tracking by the websites you visit is very difficult to prevent. And while you can block cookies, there’s no stopping Google from knowing everything you do on Google properties like Gmail and YouTube. If you’re signed in to your account, he can see every YouTube video you watch, every document you share, and what you search for.

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