The Potential of Web Browser Data
Amid the anti-trust investigations that Google and other tech giants are currently experiencing, many internet users are trying to crack down on the data they’re willing to share in regards to their web browser behavior. An article published on June 21st by Geoffrey A. Fowler in the Washington Post dives into how Google Chrome is collecting our data and offers ways to get around this by switching web browsers with less lenient policies.
There are certainly risks with providing information to these data goliaths, but there are also positives that can be derived from sharing this data. We’ll take a look at a couple of specific examples further down, but the point is that the potential for this data collection could ultimately (and literally) have a universal impact.
Now, of course, no one wants their personal information to be shared or hacked. Everyone wants to protect their privacy when it comes to sensitive data like bank account information and passwords.
But allow me to play devil’s advocate…
The reason that Google Chrome has the lion’s share of the market is that it maintains the highest quality in performance and is able to offer the best experience, particularly as it pertains to serving ads. Among a plethora of behind-the-scenes objectives, one reason that Google and other search engines are collecting user data is to be able to become more predictive and offer us the things we need before we even know we need them; or that they even exist.
In 2016, a study was done by Target that applied this very notion. Essentially, Target used data analytics from their own shoppers to predict pregnancy in some of their female customers. This was extrapolated according to the purchasing behavior of a store’s customer base and the PII (personally identifiable information) they shared via credit cards, emails, and loyalty ID numbers. The study eventually narrowed down the focus to ~25 different products that helped to determine this prediction. The information was then used to inevitably advertise certain products to customers going through this stage of life that would likely benefit them (diapers, baby food, cribs, wipes, etc).
Naturally, if you unpack that, it sounds like another money-grabbing scheme (which it is in the advertising world), but the learnings taken from users’ web behavior can also contribute to predictive modeling in future AI systems; which, in turn, could help humans reach Mars or cure cancer…advertising just happens to be the gateway for us to make those strides in the engineering, medical, and other subsequent fields.
What’s it All Mean?
The point here isn’t to advocate for these tech behemoths to continue to sneakily collect private user data nor to support the hacking of personal information, but more to bring to light some examples of how being willing to share our web-browser data could be beneficial in the right hands. It seems the direction we’re headed in is to continue to try to avoid the use of browser cookies and tracking pixels, but that may inhibit our ability to quickly learn, adapt, and eventually predict for the betterment and advancement of the relationship between humans and technology.