We’ve already seen real-life examples of how this kind of tracking can negatively impact people’s lives. Earlier this year, an anti-abortion campaign started using people’s geotags—the data showing their cellphone location—to send them anti-abortion ads if they were in or near an abortion clinic.
Beyond the shock of seeing such ads in a vulnerable moment, Quintin noted, a political action group could conceivably create ads that spread malware to people’s phones when the ad is clicked.
The effects could be drastic, depending on who’s using these tools. And Quintin pointed out that political organizations and ad agencies might not be the only ones using them.
“The thing that we saw from some of the leaked documents from Edward Snowden is that the [National Security Agency] and presumably other government agencies, not just in the U.S. but all over the world, love to piggyback on these third-party tracking cookies for their own purposes of tracking people online,” he said. “Not only are these helping companies track you around, they can also be helping governments track you around the internet.”
As Hays emphasized, the ability for companies to create customized advertising that improves your chances of getting what you want can be a fantastic thing, but there are serious risks associated. “They say your greatest strength is always you’re biggest weakness, and that’s really true,” she said.
Knowing where to get something you want at the moment may be nice, but what you give up for that convenience could be a high price to pay.