How to lose your Internet weight!


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Ever wonder why seemingly simple web pages take long to load? Chances are it’s not the content that is weighing you down, but third party trackers. These parties track your movement over several websites, analyzing your behavior and record your browsing habits.

To put things into perspective the following example from a Guardian article provides some figures. In loading the popular tech site ‘The Verge,’ the actual content only ran 8k, whereas the surrounding ads ran to 6MB. During a second study, it was discovered that almost an order of magnitude more data is needed for the trackers than the article itself. A more recent study explained this ‘weight’ in a measure more familiar to the everyday user; seconds. By turning off third party scripts, the homepage loaded within 2 seconds, down from 11 seconds.

We can therefore conclude that third party trackers take up more data (and thus more time) not only during the launch of a page, but throughout the entire duration of our browsing. These are two luxuries few of us can afford on our mobile contracts nor during our busy lives. An additional consequence for portable devices is less battery.

But fear not, solutions are available, with my personal favorite being Ghostery! This extension for your browser identifies which services are trying to track you and then gives you the option to block them. When first installing the extension the following categories are given; Advertising, Analytics, Beacons, category_iso, privacy and widgets. Given you full control of where you would like to make exceptions.

I like the newly found control I was previously unaware of. Since installing I can say I have observed a slight increase in speed. However, I do enjoy it when I load specific websites that a customized experience is opened for my profile, for example making my purchase recommendations better or my preferred settings more familiar. This customization is reduced if not lost when disabling all the trackers, therefore in the future I might consider allowing certain websites to use third party trackers for my own benefit.

Remember; “if you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer, but the product!”

Questions?

-Is this something you would install?

-What are some additional trade-offs of these services?

-If adopted on a grand scale could these extensions create problems?

Sources:

https://www.ghostery.com/en/

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/23/beginning-of-the-end-for-web-ads

http://www.networkworld.com/article/2226989/security/ghostery-a-tool-for-paranoiacs-everywhere.html

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/09/online-trackers-and-social-networks

http://murphyapps.co/blog/2015/6/24/an-hour-with-safari-content-blocker-in-ios-9

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6 responses to “How to lose your Internet weight!”

  1. gflorianne says :

    Very interesting article, with my phone ageing and therefore slowing down it is useful to know that there is a possibility to speed up at least the Internet process. I agree with you that it is nice to have customised and personalised advertisements, however, they usually advertise products that I have already been looking for on websites or, in the worst case, have already bought. Therefore, I rarely see the benefits of third party advertisements and the tracking of my online navigation behaviour. Subsequently, I would personally definitely install Ghostery to eliminate third party trackers.

  2. Carlo Bruno says :

    Interesting article. Besides your argument regarding the loss in time because of slow loading times, we can clearly see this new movement of people regarding data as a new currency (“My data is worth money”). Tracking has already been done for years and loading times have always been affected by these services, but the development of mobile technology, recent privacy scandals and the global influence of advertising firms seem to have woken up society. What’s next? A website informing you before your visit which services they use and promising you to not sell this data or slow down your experience? Sounds to me like buying a chocolate bar in the supermarket and checking whether there is this ‘fair trade’ sign on it. Will we have a ‘fair-data’ sign on every website? You cant expect from every individual to know which services are ‘fair’ and useful. Maybe Ghostery could create certain standard profiles which can be activated by individuals to help optimize their internet experience. Sharing data is not wrong per se…

  3. christiandewit says :

    Nice article Lennart. Just installed the Ghostery plug-in for the Chrome browser and it’s insane to see how many trackers are actually on certain websites. The Ghostery purple-box shows exactly which companies placed the trackers and gives you the opportunity to delete certain ones. Definitely a clever plug-in to use if you care about your privacy. The interesting thing though is that although you would say that Ghostery is a privacy enhancing app the app makes money of the data they collect via their customers that installed the app/plug-in.

    Ghostery’s business model is designed as follows: A website owned by an enterprise has contracts with a couple of advertising and marketing tech vendors. Those vendors have relationships with other partners that the enterprise which owns the website doesn’t know. As a result a large amount of trackers exist on the website without the permission of the enterprise. This leads to slower websites while some trackers need a lot of data. A slow site in return can lead to lost sales.

    Ghostery sells this data to her enterprise cleints which can take action against the trackers and tags they don’t want on their website. Making the website faster consequently enhancing the website’s performance.

    Interesting to see how Ghostery is able to supply a free application to enhance the web for users and at the same time make money.

    By the way, Ghostery is completely open about how they make money of their customers and even gives the option to opt out of data sharing when installing the app/plug-in.

    Sources:
    https://purplebox.ghostery.com/post/1016023438
    http://adexchanger.com/data-exchanges/evidon-rebrands-as-ghostery-focuses-on-marketing-cloud-management/

  4. Alje Dijkema says :

    Very interesting read Lennart! Personally, the reduction in internet speed is not my main concern when thinking about these trackers. What does concern me is that I have no idea who is tracking what, and more importantly, what they do with the data they collect. Is it used just so I can get a personal browsing experience and some product offers tailored to my “needs”? Or can I expect these trackers to sell my data to other parties who will use it for some less than ethical way to make a buck?
    What scares me the most is how this data is linked to your online presence on social networking sites such as Facebook. I’m guessing that by now they have a pretty extensive picture of most of their users in terms of behavior and preferences. So much for privacy..

    As to what would happen when we all block the tracking, I have no idea. Like Carlo says in the comment above, data is almost seen as a new currency, meaning we will probably end up paying some other way to make up for the decline in income.

    • lennartschwung says :

      Hey Alje,

      Thanks for you reply and thoughts on the matter!

      The advantage of Ghostery is you see exactly who is tracking you on specific sites. What they do with that information is of course sadly no longer in our hands, but the extension does at least let you identify (and stop) these trackers.

      I think trackers definitely gather data, therefore based on your behaviour you receive a more tailored browsing experience. Nonetheless I don’t have the answer to know if it ‘stops there’ or is sold to highest bidder afterwards as you mentioned with ‘less ethical way to make a buck.’

      I think the death of privacy is something our generation is no longer that naïve about as we perhaps once were, even though it is perhaps getting worse.

      Luckily, there are start-ups out there doing positive things and are worth mentioning in this context. One of them is called Data Wallet and they promise the following.

      “This is why we built DataWallet. With our platform, we put you in charge of your data. We give you full control to decide who gets to buy your data, what data they get to buy, and most importantly, we make sure that 100% of the money paid for your data is paid out to no one else than you.”

      Clearly data is a new currency, as Carlo also mentioned, perhaps there is a way we can profit off this financially, rather than just increased customization!

      (https://www.datawallet.io/)

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