If you’re browsing without blocking tracking, you’re telling the world how old you are.
Let’s say you’re applying for jobs. Most hiring managers who want to steer clear of age discrimination won’t directly ask you how old you are (unless they’re checking that you’re over a minimum age requirement). Or maybe you’re not comfortable with a date knowing your real age. But because all of your personal info is publicly available online, they don’t need to ask you anymore: all they have to do is Google you.
Or try Googling your age by doing this: [in quotes, "First Name, Middle Initial, Last Name" +"age"].
You found your age, didn’t you? And you probably found much more than that: your full name, aliases or maiden names, current address, past addresses, phone numbers, family members, and more.
One of the ways that these websites and advertisers get this information is, believe it or not, you.
If you’re browsing the web without blocking tracking, you’re broadcasting a lot of information about yourself, including what you buy, where you live, which sites you visit, and for how long. Pair this information with visitor demographic data—such as age, gender, and ZIP code–and voila: advertisers can build a scarily accurate profile for you, which they then use to target you with specific ads.
This type of advertising, called behavioral advertising or tracking, is only getting more popular. The US market alone is predicted to grow to $4.4 billion by 2012. Your data is worth a lot of money to advertisers, and they’re willing to pay for it.
Thankfully, you can take matters into your own hands and block secret tracking of what you do online. Meanwhile, tracking remains a hotly contested issue in Congress, and we hope to see a privacy-enhancing set of guidelines soon. If the way they seem to be handling the budget is any indication, you’re better off not waiting around for the government to protect you: do it yourself.