How online websites and apps are following your every move


Online shopping and social media are a major player in stolen information and tracking. Firmbee/unsplash


Have you even been scrolling through Instagram or Facebook and an ad pops up for something you were talking about with a friend a couple of hours ago? Or when you are traveling, suddenly restaurants nearby are advertised to you? This is because online companies track your movement and activity on your cell phone and computer.

And this targeted  advertising doesn’t just happen on social media! All kinds of companies use your action on their websites to track what you like and try to advertise it to you across the various media you use online. Companies can trace your email through their website to others even if you turned off the website, app, or location. 

Although some phone brands offer protection from online threats, even then you are still being tracked. I know companies track you because I have had it happen to me. I also know many others who have experienced this or something similar.

More than 2.8 billion people have either Facebook or Instagram accounts globally. Following this number, there are more than 60% of them who have had an advertisement provided about something they were viewing before or are around based on location. A study from the University of Southern California found that even if you “opt out” of location tracking from Facebook, it still follows you around. This is scary to an everyday user as the application knows where you are 24/7 even if you think you’re safe from the tracking. 

Why do I get ads about what I’ve already bought? This question is commonly asked among many people who shop online. Websites and apps use things called “cookies” and they are little messages inside the website that track what you looked at or bought. These seemingly safe pieces of code are useful for companies. Companies use cookies as a way to track what you have looked at and ordered. Cookies are a way to assign you a profile and file away your interests. Companies think that cookies are more useful than harmful. Coming from a business, cookies are helpful but customers hate the idea of them. When companies use cookies, they add to your list of interests and ideas or spending money. When they view said cookies, they learn what to advertise to you to maybe increase their profit from your sale.

And then there’s tracking! Companies see what you like on other sites and show you ads for it again. For example, Facebook admits that it collects the content, communications and other information, including photos, videos, accounts, hashtags and groups we are linked to. This basically means that companies look at what you have posted about or what people you are connected to on their website or app. They note what posts, videos and other things you view and sometimes even collect payment information or card numbers.

Even if there will always be someone who can hack past technology, there should be a way to protect your personal information from major companies and websites. If an application is turned off, it can still track you and take information. Therefore, there should either be a safer, more secure, way to protect information once it’s given out or a separate application that holds or protects information. Instead of companies using cookies and other tracking technologies, whenever a customer has an account with them or not, companies should always ask if a customer wants to receive ads based on location or preference. If a company has customer information, the company should keep it hidden and not share it throughout the web with other websites or businesses. 

Whether you shop online till your fingers are sore or you spend hours scrolling through friends’ posts, be aware that your every move is being tracked by those companies, even with your location turned off. If you value your privacy,  be careful where you put your information, what you post on social media, and what you chose to purchase because chances are an ad will pop up later that day for the thing you thought about buying.