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On the occasion of the European Data Protection Day on January 25, the French consumer association UFC Que Choisir has published a study showing the extent of data collection by commercial companies.

The study shows that the average consumer, who visits around ten websites a day, is tracked more than 4,000 times. This data is then shared with over 1,000 third parties. Of course, most consumers don’t know or think about this when they surf the web.

But what is data tracking and what is it used for?

Tracking in a nutshell

Tracking consists of monitoring and tracking the user’s every move for marketing reasons, usually through cookies installed on websites. This is a legal practice, and users are usually informed that they can accept or reject cookies, giving them the illusion of choice. Every click, every piece of information entered into a form, as well as historical data, is then shared with the site you are browsing and often sold to third parties who in turn sell it to other commercial sites. Tracking also makes it possible to know which site you came from and which site you go to next.

If it’s free, it means that you’re the product: social networks (X, Instagram, Facebook) are among the most affected by this practice. Of course, applications on mobile devices also use this practice.

Your secrets out in the open

Data collectors use them to create a very precise advertising profile of each consumer. The goal, of course, is to target ads and encourage overconsumption. Advertising is part of most people’s daily lives, but what makes it different from normal advertising is the extremely targeted aspect of the ads in question: political preferences, gambling or opiate addiction, health problems, depression… no behavior, even behavior that the Internet user thinks is secret, is secret to these data merchants.

The not-so-hidden goal ? Exploit psychological weaknesses to encourage purchases by creating marketing needs that the person visiting the site didn’t even know they had.  With your collected data, the perfect ad for you appears on your favorite social network, a factor in over-consumption. This is how products are bought every day that Internet users didn’t think they needed. Is this normal in a capitalist society? Probably, but this kind of impulse buying is found in the vast majority of cases of over-indebtedness.

It’s a legitimate business practice, but it’s in a gray area, on the edge of good faith, and is often considered unfair and deceptive by legal experts and many human rights thinkers.

Data collection in practice

Where and how is data collected and shared? Absolutely everywhere, on all commercial sites, social networks… In fact, a 2022 study shows that in the US, even government sites and non-profit associations have about 7 trackers and 3 third-party cookies; the information is also shared with Google Analytics. So tracking is not even limited to commercial sites and social networks.

Personal data deletion: an illusion

The majority of consumers, when explicitly confronted with the issue, say they don’t want the data collected, but believe it won’t be retained or can be deleted. The reality? It’s much more complicated.

In fact, if you really want to delete your data, you have to go to each commercial site and read its terms of use (which are often, by design, long and complex) to find the list of third parties with which the site in question shares your data; then you have to contact these third parties one by one and ask them to respect your rights and delete your data.

The UFC-Que Choisir study shows that more than half of the sites concerned either do not offer any means of contacting them to request deletion, or simply ignore it.

Then, what can be done to improve the transparency of personal data sharing? We’ll look at that in our next article in mid-March. In the meantime, if you have a movie, series, software, or e-book to protect, don’t hesitate to contact one of our account managers for our services; PDN has been a pioneer in cybersecurity and anti-piracy for over a decade, and we’re sure to have a solution that can help you. Enjoy reading and see you soon!

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