Special Reports

Cyber Spy: How the government and marketers track consumers online

Cyber spy special

EL PASO, Texas - Many Americans may not know that while they are online, each click is being monitored, every website they pull up tracked and their browsing history stored.

You are at home on a weekend and are looking for shoes online. Monday morning, you log in to your computer at work and advertisements for the shoes you were looking at during the weekend start popping up.

How does your workplace computer know what you were checking out over the weekend on your mobile phone?

"Every step you take is logged," Nils Desmet, CEO of Makios IT, told ABC-7. "Whether it's by the government or by marketing."

The online marketing expert said Google, Facebook and Twitter are the big players in "connecting the dots" when it comes to consumer data.

"That is their bread and butter. Their business is not to distribute information. They are supposed to make money on marketing," Desmet said.

Each time you open a browser on a computer, tablet or smartphone, you have an ID, which the site records to track your searches. Those searches are tracked by cookies, which are dropped on your computer and stored to your ID.

A cookie is a message given to a web browser by a web server. The browser then stores the message in a text file and that message is then sent back to the server each time the browser requests a page from a server; thus logging your searching.

UTEP professor Shahriar Hussain is contracted by the military and is one of the many faces on the other side of the screen who is creating algorythms designed to continuously learn more about online users.

"These servers are becoming very smart, because they have a mission learning algorythms," Hussain said, adding the collective knowledge continuously grows. 'They have a lot of information because they get a lot of data from users."

Based on all of the items that the algorythms attain, the "recommender systems" provide suggestions that the user may like. If IDs are shared on various gadgets, like a family plan, that information is gathered from each source.

For example, if your child is looking at a certain modeled car, and you share an ID, don't be surprised if the car brand advertises on your device.

"These algorythms are going to be smarter and smarter, but if we don't provide the data, these algorythms will not provide the data," Hossein said.

The monitoring goes a step further Apple and Android devices track your location. Your geo-location is monitored, if you haven't blocked it, and is able to tell when and where you have been.

"If someone is carrying a cellphone, it is almost impossible to hide that person," Hossein said. "Even if the cellphone does not have a GPS, the cellphone is actually connecting with a mobile tower. There is a region that you can say OK, this person is in this region because the cellphone is active in that tower."

The question remains: Is anonymity impossible in this day in age?

"It is just a battle that is tough to fight," Desmet said. " How far do you want to go to be private."

There are several steps one can take to keep their anonymity, however it's not guaranteed. "If you said, well I don't want anyone seeing what I am doing, then it is an almost impossible mission," Desmet said.

Turning on private browsing will disable cookies from being dropped on your device, however it could limit your searching capabilities - as several website require cookie capabilities.

If you wish to turn off your phones Geolocation, which is tracking your every move, follow these steps.

Android users:

- Click on settings


- Click location


- Click on Google location history



 - Click the top right corner - switching "on" to "off"'

- The phone will no longer track your moves

Iphone users:

- Click on settings

- Click privacy

 - Click location services

- Click the top right - switching it from "on" to "off"


- The phone will no longer track your moves


Tune in Monday night at 10 p.m. for Evan Folan's Special Report on ABC-7.

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