If you use the web browser Firefox, download and install the add-on “Lightbeam.” (Under the “Tools” menu, select the “Addons” tab, which should take you to an introductory page that explains what add-ons are. Look for the link that allows you to “Browse all add-ons”: this will take you to a second page that includes a search box. Type in “Lightbeam” and follow the directions from there.) As Lightbeam runs, it tracks the websites that are tracking you as you navigate through the Web – and presents its findings in a graph that shows the increasingly complex set of links to the sites you have visited and the services they use to record your browsing activities.
After a few days of letting Lightbeam run, have a look at the graph. And/or: if you are interested in seeing more of the details of how such tracking works, you can install an add-on such as “NoScript,” “Privacy Badger” from the Electronic Freedom Foundation, along with “Ublock Origin”. These add-ons give you control over the mini- programs or scripts that are required for many of the conveniences a given website offers, such as search functions – as well as those used to track your web-browsing. The add-on specifically warns web servers that you do not want to be tracked, thus giving you the possibility to “opt in” to such tracking, rather than accede to it unawares and without explicit consent (the current default in the US– one we will explore more fully below).
At the same time, however, you will notice that these add-ons will often “break a page” – that is, render it unusable past initial browsing. Such experiences thus highlight one of the central conundrums of living in a post-digital era: we enjoy the conveniences such sites offer us – are these conveniences (sometimes, indeed, necessities) worth the trade-off of our personal information?