A new study has shown that the majority of consumers do not realise their private data is being sold to advertising networks and third-party entities in order to provide them with targeted ads.
According to the research, when people find out they are constantly followed and monitored, many start worrying about their privacy, and the research claims that consumers are most often not informed about what kind of information is being collected about them.
Moreover, advertisers are using cross-device tracking, which introduces additional privacy and security risks. In cross-device tracking, ad companies and publishers try to build a consumer's profile based on their activity throughout computers, tablets, smartphones, smart watches and various IoT devices.
Online and offline factors are often combined too: such as browsing history with physical location, retail purchases with watched TV programs, commute to work and vacation travel and so on.
The research says behaviours of this nature are an invasion of internet user's privacy – whenever the users have not given their consent. For example, one family member might be browsing “privately” on their smartphone, but the rest of the family might see ads on their home computer related to the other person's mobile browsing history.
Or, worse yet, a woman who has suffered the trauma of miscarriage is often still persecuted by pregnancy ads, following her from once-visited pregnancy sites.
There is also the security issue too. The collection of unfathomable amounts of data about people's interests and habits can fall into the wrong hands. If such data landed in the hands of someone with malintent, the internet user's information could then be used to steal their identity, access bank accounts or medical records.
While some advertising companies already offer the ability to opt-out from behavioural targeting, most often internet users are not given an explanation/disclaimer about how they are being tracked.
The issue of advertiser tracking is not new – The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has ruled that electronics firm Vizio has to pay $US 2.2 million (£1.7 million) in fines after it transpired the company's TVs had spied on users.
The complaint was raised by the state of New Jersey, whose case claimed Vizio was violating privacy regulations by collecting data on the viewing habits of users of 11 million television sets across the US without warning or asking for permission.According to a letter written by New Jersey's state attorney general to the FTC, from February 2014 to March 2016, Vizio collected data such as what TV shows were being watched and resold that information to third parties, which mostly consisted of advertising firms.