Ever notice how when you search for something on one site, you suddenly start seeing advertisements for that ‘something’ following you around wherever you go on the Internet? May be you don’t even really pay attention anymore because it is so common. Indeed it is very common:
Security researchers have found that roughly eight out of ten websites featuring a search bar will leak their visitor’s search terms to online advertisers like Google.
This practice has the implication of breaching the users’ privacy and leaking sensitive information to a massive network of third parties who can then use this data to deliver targeted advertisements or track your behavior on the web.
This data is shared among the network members or sold to more entities, leaving users unable to estimate their exposure or stop its dissemination.
While some websites may declare this practice in their user policy, visitors typically don’t read these and assume that the information they enter on embedded search fields is isolated from big data brokers.
This is the double-edged sword of the Internet. Many websites provide their content at no cost to you, but they still have bills to pay. They need to pay for their hosting, their design services, their developers, etc. The easy way to recoup their money and pay their bills (without resorting to a paywall) is to sell (leak) visitors search terms to advertisers such as Google. User can avoid this by setting their browsers to block all third-party trackers from loading on the websites they visit. Also using search engines such as DuckDuckGo or Brave Search.