Although most of these free services seemed harmless at first, we now live in a different time. Now,if we let them see your IP Address, and which page you are on, they can combine that with their vast pools of other data to target ads at you, and build profiles about your online behaviour and preferences. If you’ve ever seen an advert for a product you were recently researching that follows you around the internet for days, you’ll know what I mean.
You may wonder why anyone ever allowed such tracking, but these services crept up on us. Google Analytics genuinely helped website owners to easily see which pages were working well. We could use the information to make changes and see how they performed. Share buttons allowed an easy way to get content into valuable social networks. These things eventually felt normal and necessary, and were not really given a second though. Now, with advances in machine learning and AI, any crumb of information we give them can be processed with others into something much more potent.
Large (free) web services have proven that they don’t respect user privacy, so we’ve totally cut them off. We can’t stop them doing dubious things, but we can stop giving them our data. Hopefully as more companies implement GDPR, we’ll see a trend away from the tracking-by-default we see from the likes of Facebook & Google. Did you know for example that many of the “Like on Facebook” type buttons that appear websites, often leak information back to the other site even if you don’t click the button!
Although it sounds like we’ve just thrown away a bunch of useful services, we’ve actually made a few gains. Our page-load speeds should be a bit faster without the third-party scripts. We also found a replacement anti-spam tool that runs directly on our site, and doesn’t send any information to a third party service.