Monday, August 16, 2010

Web Tracking - Incredibly pervasive

There was an interesting piece on C-Span the other day about web tracking. It was an interview with Julia Angwin, Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Senior Technology Writer. She was being interviewed because of a report done by the WSJ on July 30th. The report is called, "The Web's New Gold Mine: Your Secrets," and even surprised me a little with some of what they learned. I was only able to listen to about 10 minutes of the 35 minute interview then, but even that had some interesting discoveries. I'll be going back to listen to the rest and I will be checking out the WSJ report. SomWall Street Journale of this I've talked about before, but here are some of the tidbits from the first 10 minutes (italics are my comments):

<blockquote>The top 50 websites in the U.S. were examined. After visiting all 50 over 3000 tracking devices had been installed on the computer. The average was 64 tracking devices per site, but the biggest offender was dictionary.com

The WSJ reporters were uprised by scope and invasiveness of the tracking, <i> which tells me they haven't been listening to groups like the EFF.</i>

Some of the trackers were programs that actually had the ability to log keystrokes. <i>This is something I wasn't aware of. It's disturbing.</i>

The file created by these trackes is supposedly anonymous. <i>Ms. Angwin later tells that someone sent them personal information gleaned from a supposedly anonymous file. It was all a little off - zip code one digit off, age a little off, etc. My experience tells me that was done on purpose, not because they couldn't get the right information.</i>

Beacons - Live software programs that launch invisibly while on page and monitor your activity - <i>these probably included the keylogger, but they didn't explicitly say that in the interview.</i>

Flash Cookies - cookies that live in Flash video player - harder to find and delete than standard cookies and almost universally condemned, even by the tracking industry's trade organization.<i>And yet they're still being used.</i></blockquote>

It looks like an interesting, informative report. Check it out.