This week I was tasked to install and use “Lightbeam” while surfing the ‘net for 20 minutes. I was surprised by my findings for so many reasons.
Firstly, I’m not a “surfer” per se. Twenty minutes was an eternity to mindlessly visit sites! I made sure to access a couple of social media sites (Facebook and LinkedIn), a couple of entertainment sites (People and Canada.com for the television listings) and Workopolis to search job postings.
Secondly, I was and was not surprised at the results that Lightbeam returned. Facebook and the numerous tentacles that it had branching out was in itself not surprising as Facebook is well known for its data mining, targeted advertising and tracking. The third party sites that Facebook, and all the other sites, were connecting to were sites that collect data on user’s habits.
Facebook earns revenue on click-through advertising, not through passive users. It’s the selling of personal data which augments Facebook’s revenue which why it didn’t surprise me that the more data they can collect regarding their users, the more money they can earn. The challenge with Facebook selling data is that some of the organizations purchasing the data are involved in phishing and malware scams.
I will admit to being disappointed that LinkedIn had so many of these third party sites dedicated to user tracking associated with them as I was under the impression that their revenue was earned through organizations membership dues. It is my understanding that LinkedIn does not sell user data however I question why they need so many “connections” to third party sites.
This exercise has further confirmed that keeping my identity intact is going to be an ongoing challenge. There is new legislation on the horizon that is going to limit the “tracking” of users which may limit the collection of data. Whether this translates into greater security for the end user, I doubt it. Fraudsters and big business will find alternative means to reach the same end result.