Today I’d like to talk about privacy on the web.

Google’s Chrome made headlines (again) near the end of 2021 for sharing data when you wish it didn’t. Even going as far as misrepresenting the privacy option of an ‘Incognito’ session.

They’ve since unveiled a new technology that’s designed to protect user privacy without putting an end to web advertising.  

How we left 2021

An article surfaced online, revealing how the accelerometer data on mobile devices was being used by the Chrome web browser.

According to researcher Tommy Mysk, “accelerometer data reflects how you hold your phone and how you move. An app can tell if you are using it while lying, sitting, walking, or cycling. The app can also count your steps. (…)”

Sounds harmless, right?

Let’s think about this for a moment. We often forget that actions that are meaningless to us may be worth something (sometimes a lot) to companies.

For instance, if a business’ goal is for you to read their content, and they can see that you are always walking when you are consuming this content, you may see them move this content to an audio platform such as a podcast, where you can still consume this same content, in a different format, while actually looking where you are going.

A consequence of this might be that you are suddenly more attentive to what they are saying. Same goes for what they may or may not be selling.

Because your hands are not required to hold the phone in order to listen, your hands are potentially busy elsewhere. You might get lazy to skip an ad with the phone in your pocket and going about your business. Or they might serve you a 5-10 second ad that you don’t have time to skip.

Instructions on how to disable Chrome sharing accelerometer data can be found here.

Our smartphones are spying on us.

Yes, we know this.

I think that in 2022, just about everyone has an example where the have witnessed their browsing habits being responsible for ads they have been exposed to.

Chances are we don’t even get offended anymore. Every so often you have to re-restrict certain things on your devices or apps, it’s routine, we’ve become desensitized. Nothing to see here.

Perhaps it’s time to ask questions such as ‘Where do we draw the line’?

Truth be told, we take our phones everywhere.

Do we wish for Google to be able to give companies even the faintest idea of what we are physically doing while we are using our phones?

No matter how sensitive we are about our private data, these types of practices illustrate the type of climate companies are operating under when it comes to selling their products and services. They will take and do their best to use everything we are willing to give them.  

They either sweet talk us or talk too fast, or we simply don’t pay attention. And we agree.

Businesses will then hide behind consent, a consent that his too often hastily granted, so that if need be, they may say ‘they told you so’ at any given point in time.

In the end, be it cybersecurity or data privacy, one variable seems to be consistently understated: Users hold the power. But we have collectively relinquished it for the sake of faster access to apps, websites, content, etc.

Terms and conditions may apply. Yes we know. Accept. Quick, before I forget why I’ve come here in the first place.

Unless they ask for a credit card, I should be safe.

Marketing teams are banking on this type of mentality, which we have contributed in creating.

Facebook/Metaverse, gave us…Facebook, after all!  Google has given us so many great ‘free’ tools, such as Terra Vision, I mean Google Maps!

If nothing in life is really free, I suppose they should be getting something from us?

If you are curious to know what you’ve ‘told’ Google about yourself, have a seat, click here and start scrolling.


2022: From cookies to Topics?

Since the story initially appeared, Google decided to unveil a new technology called Topics, which was meant to begin being tested in Q1 2022, but at the time of writing this, does not seem to have begun.

This short video explains, in layperson’s terms, how it works. If you’ve ever read a Google Help Center article, you may appreciate this.

In short, Google wants to move away from cookie-based targeting for ads and replace it with ‘topics’ based off of your browsing history.

The Topics interface uses software built into Google’s Chrome browser to monitor your browsing behavior and assembles a list of five subjects it thinks you’ve shown interest in over the course of a week. The subjects are broad, such as cars, fitness, travel, animation and news. All of this with the possibility of opting-out.

Is this a first step in an acceptable direction?

Back to basics.

With all of this said, kindly allow me to repeat myself: Users have the power. You, the reader, the user, have the power.

But you would have to actually read through these terms and conditions to understand the power you hold. You know that lengthy compilation of text written in sometimes very complex yet extremely vague language that not many people speak.

Who has time for that?

The answer to this question is the root cause of where we are today.

So, who should take the time for that? People who value their privacy.

At one point in time, I would have thought this would mean everyone.

Of course, in 2022, you don’t actually have to read ALL of the terms and conditions. While I do not recommend it, I can tell you that there are resources available which can summarize or analyze terms and conditions text for you.

For these purposes, DuckDuckGo is your privacy-inclined friend. 😊

In the end, my hope is that you’ll at the very least make a conscious decision, regardless of what you’re allowing your smartphone to track about yourself.

Coming soon: our web browser comparison for 2022!

Cookie-based or Topic-based? Which method do you feel is more respectful of users’ privacy? Let us know in the comments!

Curious or passionate about Data Privacy? See if becoming a Certified Data Protection Officer is for you!