Web tracking and privacy

About 14 years ago I had e-mail contact with Tim Berners-Lee – the man who had just created a thing called the World-Wide-Web. I was a student, and he was an internet pioneer. At the time, we both used the same type of PDA!

Today there is an interview with him on BBC News with a Q&A, on topics not unlike I get asked about myself.

So what’s my view on internet privacy?

Well, living in Germany we have fairly strict laws on such things. You can’t just have your e-mail address added to a mailing list – you have to give permission and it’s up to the owner of the list to prove that you gave it. Cold calling private households is illegal as well.

Over the years I’ve become a defender of such rights. I blog about unwanted e-mails and telephone calls and often try to follow how my personal data has got from one system to another.

And yet I am just as fascinated when sites such as Amazon recommend me items based on previous purchases, much in the same way I recommend products to my own customers.

Except of course, my recommendations are based on my knowledge of peoples’ requirements – Amazon does it automatically based on the data that they have saved about me.

There are many systems on the internet that are free to use for personal use, provided you accept their advertising, such as my favourite virus scanner.

But what would happen if my provider allowed me a discount for being allowed to process the web sites that I visited – or worse, made me pay a surcharge for not doing it?

In the case of a discount, I would have to think long and hard about it. I would certainly try to avoid any surcharge.

But being in Germany I hope that, like so many other things, such systems will have to be “opt-in” so that I won’t suddenly find myself viewing advertisements based on where I surfed to yesterday.

Sometimes having such strict privacy laws can be useful.


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About Graham

Graham Tappenden is a British ex-pat who first came to Germany as a placement student in 1993, returning in 1995 to live there permanently. He has been writing for AllThingsGerman.net since 2006. When not writing blog posts or freelancing for the Oberurseler Woche and other publications he works as a self-employed IT consultant solving computer problems and designing websites. In 2016 he gained German citizenship.


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