Who Knows What You Read?

2 min read

I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to help people understand data collection and privacy. I've done workshops on tracking before, but over the next year I'd like to try this with a group of teachers, or possibly at an EdCamp. This activity could also work at the high school level, and possibly even with middle school students.

The goal of the activity is to provide participants the skills and tools to begin analyzing how online trackers work, and how to spot and identify them.

If anyone runs this activity, or has suggestions on how to improve or modify it, please let me know

Select an individual news article, and document how you found it. 

Then, read the article.

Then, document:

  • a. how you chose this individual article;
  • b. what device you read it on;
  • c. how long you spent reading it;
  • d. the web page you visited after you read it;
  • e. your physical location when you read it;
  • f. when during the day you read it.

Then, describe who else would know the answers to questions a-f, listed above. Include any companies that might be tracking any of the pages you visited, including the company that owns/controls the site that published the article. How difficult or easy would it be for them to share that information with other companies? How would you know if/when any of this information was shared, or how it was used?

Then, compare this process to reading an article in a newspaper or magazine. When we read something in print, who else knows about it? How do they know?

Using just the information from only one article, what statements,judgments, or assumptions could someone make about you?

How would this change if they had information about 10 articles you read?

How would this change if they had access to your reading habits for the last week? The last month? The last year? 

To get a sense of the trackers on a page, use a tool like Ghostery or Lightbeam (Firefox only). While neither are as accurate as an intercepting proxy, they are both very accessible, and help illustrate the point with much less work.