“I have nothing to hide, like my activity, interests, plans, location, movements…”
In my last post, I discussed responsive design, including responsive design as it applies to web requests in the user experience. For example, loading in data from a server, or even the initial page load should be taken into account with responsive design.
It might be tempting to collect information on these requests. Analytics can be run to determine where errors are that haven’t been caught in testing or show how various pages and elements perform in the real world using a much broader range of devices and internet connections. Location data can be collected to see how geographical position impacts speed or behavior. If you run multiple web pages, you can correlate this data to build profiles on users letting you build better experiences. However, it is understandable how these violate certain aspects of user privacy as they browse your sites.
These are all things that many websites and companies do, and the prime reason why user and data privacy get frequently brought up in today’s world. For example, Google builds a profile of you as you browse the web, including purchases, pageviews, location data, and more. Even if you aren’t on a Google website, many websites use Google’s tracking scripts and therefore Google still receives that information. The same goes for many other companies, including Facebook. While you may trust a company like Google to handle your data responsibly (hint: you shouldn’t), you should also realize that any random website is also capable of this tracking. In fact, you may be more vulnerable to these if browser-based built-in tracking prevention, like in Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Safari, fails to recognize the threat.
However, I just said that the data can be useful if not exploited. As a developer, what gives? The answer is to simply respect your users and take only the information you need. Knowing that Google is a data aggregation company at heart, I recommend developers to stay away from using their analytics and monetization scripts (like AdSense), as they frequently over collect information. There are other alternatives that collect useful information or still provide a great service, but don’t go as overboard. You can even throw together your own in-house or first-party analytics script. By doing this, it will benefit your credibility and increase user trust as browsers will notify them of blocked tracking scripts.
We need to fight for user privacy in today’s world as data breaches, advanced profiling, and other dangerous events develop in our industry. By fighting for user privacy and collecting less information, we run less risk of being vulnerable to improperly configured databases containing personally identifiable info or malicious entities gaining access to our data. That starts with developers and our community making the next generations of software for all.