How Our Privacy Is Put at Risk through Data-Sharing

Concerns over Internet security and privacy have increased rapidly with the recent case of Facebook mishandling information connected to millions of users on its platform.

The recent study carried out by Raymond Patterson and Hooman Hidaji of the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business won’t make anyone feel any better about how their personal information is used on the Internet. This study is focused on the growing privacy concerns that have to do with funding models, which encourage sharing of data amongst web publishers like Financial Times and New York Times and other third-party companies. They published their finding in the MIS Quarterly journal and in this report; they noted that the use of third parties especially among the top publishers is pervasive because apparently, they sell access to their sites.

It was noted in this report that an average of 13.5 third parties were used by publisher websites. According to a study on this issue done by the U.S. Senate subcommittee, an interaction with a popular tabloid in the U.S. triggered a user interaction with 352 other web servers.

While the majority of these interactions might have been harmless, some of the websites make use of cookies and other technology to compile user data without the explicit consent of the user. The data obtainable via this technique include the users’ past-purchase history, location, browsing history and interests.

This practice is widespread and many users are oblivious of how much information about them is available online. Different web publishers take different approach and the research was able to identify a correlation between the number of third-party partnership and the desire for privacy by the user. For instance, the mainstream news sites are more likely to share data with third parties because users are rarely bothered about what news and stories they are reading and sharing.

Websites that handle more sensitive or personal topics like pornography, banking, healthcare etc. tend to hold privacy issues to higher esteem and as a result, they involve little to no third parties. This act though, isn’t one born of kindness by the service providers but rather a desire to keep their customers coming back.

User privacy is still at risk, even when data sharing is limited and that is because of the higher concentration of the third parties that ensure companies maintain better records of user activity across all websites.

However, this behind the scene data gathering could have an upside to it and that is the fact that it could make life easier because it narrows adverts, and content suggestion to our specific areas of interest and that could be the only upside to this according to Dr. Patterson.

Abusive data sharing can still be limited by businesses and this could be done by acknowledging the customers’ need for online security and privacy as well as limiting their partnerships to third party providers that accept ad-blocking services.