The Ghostery Partnership Program aims to pull back the curtain of the invisible web to promote better online privacy and security. What better place to start this unveiling than with the next generation of web developers, marketers, and industry leaders. Rising students can make privacy a forethought in their next great endeavor – avoiding many of the issues companies are facing today due to haphazard attempts to incorporate privacy down the road.
On our quest to reach this audience, we began partnering with universities all across the country, giving tech talks, real-time demos, and privacy workshops. Each visit has given us an insightful look at the way this generation interacts with the internet and how much they know about what’s happening in the background of some of their favorite sites and apps. Perhaps the most interesting trend we’ve noticed is the contrast in reactions between campus groups that are more tech-focused and those that are not. When talking with more tech-savvy groups, such as computer science majors and related clubs, the information we were sharing was less of a surprise; the concepts and code used in internet tracking were more widely known and understood. However, when we spoke with the other side of the ads and trackers coin – future marketers, advertisers, and data analysts – there was much more of a surprise factor. We found that many of these students were being taught about online marketing and advertising strategies and how to capitalize on them, without any explanation of where this data comes from and how it works. This is the knowledge gap we’re trying to fill. We want to help schools educate students on data privacy and security. We’ve always believed that the key features and granularity provided in our products make them great educational tools. Using our free browser extension gives users the ability to see which trackers are on a page and how long it takes the page to load. This is helpful information when diving into the structure and privacy of a web page. To take it a step further, our latest product, Ghostery Midnight, provides similar information at the device level – showing the trackers visible in both browsers and desktop applications, while also providing users an extra layer of protection with a VPN.
My interest in marketing started about halfway through high school and I began tailoring my elective courses based on this newfound passion. Fast-forward a few years to college. Following the path for a career in this industry, I decided to major in, you guessed it, marketing. Throughout these 6-ish years – starting in high school and through college – of focused learning, my scope of knowledge surrounding the subject varied from general business skills, such as using Excel and handling finances, to specific marketing strategies. I learned about the four P’s of marketing, the importance of branding, how consumer behavior influences the success of a product, how to reach your target audience, and much more that’s probably floating around in my head somewhere. It wasn’t until after college and beginning my first job that I realized there was a significant gap in my understanding of the marketing world, specifically when it came to the ever-growing digital landscape. The importance of getting information and ads about your products and services in front of the right eyes was not a foreign concept; however, the behind-the-scenes processes to accomplish this goal never seemed to come up throughout my education. Working at Ghostery, I quickly came to realize how much data is collected on individual internet users, often without their knowledge, to better target ads, among other things. The more I learned, the more shocked I became. To say the internet is like the wild west might seem like an exaggeration, but quite frankly, it’s probably an understatement. Major companies operating online, such as Google and Facebook, may even know you better than you know yourself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all marketing is bad. I do work in this field, after all. The point is no one had taught me about this side of the marketing coin. There are right and wrong ways to go about marketing efforts; although, it can be difficult to balance this with business goals and achieving successful campaigns. Having more available data does allow for better targeting, which in turn tends to yield better results. But where is the line drawn? How much data is too much data? What is considered too personal and what is not? The answers to these questions live in a grey area that has yet to be clearly defined. However, due to increasing hacks, leaks, and mishandlings, the desire for better data regulations has been a hot topic in the past few years. Until we see laws come to fruition that regulate how businesses can collect and use consumer data, the only real option is for consumers to take matters into their own hands through self-learning and implementing their own data privacy and security practices. Programs like the Ghostery Partnership Program attempt to fill this knowledge gap early with hopes for a better online future.