Many of our class discussions have circled back to the concern over the monitoring of our online browsing habits. Some interesting points were raised about how new media and consumer sites can be used to track our online movements, which in turn, can be leveraged by marketers to build detailed user profiles and wage targeted ad campaigns. And while this is not a new phenomenon–advertisers have been using media like television and radio to get ads out to consumers for decades–the specificity of the information gathering and the invisibility of it is something new. This, I think, raises some important issues about digital literacy because how many of us are guilty of skipping over the user agreement section and just clicking on the opt-in box without bothering to read or fully understand what it really means? It doesn’t help that these user agreements, full of technical jargon and legal language, are designed to be unreadable. And because this tracking of our movements takes place in the background, it’s rendered invisible and isn’t something we tend to think about.
The echoes of this class discussion were on my mind when I stumbled upon The Tor Project, which is free software that can be used across a Mac, PC, or Linux platform to safeguard against network security and traffic analysis tools. Basically, it’s designed to prevent online tracking systems from gathering information about your location and browsing habits. Military and law enforcement use this to protect their communication and online intelligence gathering efforts. Activists, journalists, and some businesses also use Tor to anonymize their browsing habits and protect information and sources. Tor is supported by The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco based organization concerned about defending civil rights in the digital world. They have an interesting section about online behavioral tracking.