bans data leeches

Not everything that comes along as being free is free: in fact, in the World Wide Web users often pay a high price with their personal data. is trying to make a difference. The website of the New Apostolic Church International is tracker free.

Sometimes it can be quite creepy: you are on a website looking for something. A while later you are somewhere completely different and up pops exactly what you were looking for before. Is someone exchanging information about us behind our backs?

Stiff competition for user data

The magic words here are cookies and the like. These tiny crumbs of data are what internet companies make billions with. Cookies are small files that are stored on your computer’s browser to identify your computer and you as the user. These files alone are already enough to create personalised profiles.

Things become even more problematic when the website shares this information with third parties, mostly professional data collectors from the advertising industry. In theory, users can put a stop to this. But who doesn’t just click away those complicated warnings instead of bothering to take a closer look at the settings in our web browser.

Even if we do bother, the data collectors have long since developed new tracking techniques. Browser makers, however, have reacted with tracking blockers. The technological arms race is going into a new round.

The sneaky ways of data collectors

There are a lot of hidden traps. If you are logged on to a social network you are dragging a veritable trail of data behind you. Visits to any website that offer Like or Share buttons, and which the networks themselves offer as basic elements, are recorded.

Even more hidden are the analytics tools used by website operators to review and analyse how their site is being used. Internet companies provide such tools free of charge and in return grab the data on all activities carried out by all users.

Most free services are based on the same principle. Whether it is email, messenger, or a route planner—the user pays with his data. At best this will be used to manipulate people’s buying behaviour. If such data falls into the hands of criminals, however, the result could be scams and blackmail.

The alternatives

And because of this the new version of the Church’s official website does without cookies and the like as far as possible. Responses to user actions do require a cache, but this is cleared long before the next visit. At any rate, data is not shared with third parties. “We want to make the Church a safe haven also digitally,” Peter Johanning, the Church spokesman says.

It took some effort to make the website track-free. This includes programming social media buttons that do not “phone home” and building administration tools that only observe the current visit and do not create user profiles.

Open source worldwide

The last big weak spot were the maps for the church finder. There switched to OpenStreetMap, an open-source project for geographic data, kind of like the Wikipedia among map services. The multi-layered material was converted for our own purposes, and the result is stored on our own servers. Here, too, third parties are left out in the cold.

OpenStreetMap thrives on the community idea: authorities, companies, and above all many private individuals contribute to creating the maps. Church spokesman Peter Johanning finds this very appropriate: “The maps point the way to our congregations, which also live on the fact that everyone contributes to their community.”

Photo: chones -

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Andreas Rother