How I'm Being Followed on Web

I’m Being Followed: How Google—and 104 Other Companies—Are Tracking Me on the Web is a voyage into the invisible business that funds the web. Who are these companies and what do they want from me? Even if you’re generally familiar with the idea of data collection for targeted advertising, the number and variety of these data collectors will probably astonish you. Right now, a huge chunk of what you’ve ever looked at on the Internet is sitting in databases all across the world.

Many different companies want to know as much about me and what’s on my screen as they possibly can, although they have different reasons for their interest. To be clear, these companies gather data without attaching it to your name (most of the companies do not know names of the people they are following); they use that data to show you ads you’re statistically more likely to click. That’s the game, and there is substantial money in it. Some of the best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads (think for example how many highly talented people Google has). The online advertising industry argues that technology is changing so rapidly that regulation is not the answer to queasiness about all that data going off to who-knows-where.

The bad news is that people haven’t taken control of the data that’s being collected and traded about them. At the moment there is a fascinating scrum over what “Do Not Track” tools should do and what orders websites will have to respect from users. Do Not Track signals a user’s opt-out preference with an HTTP header. Several large third parties have already committed to honor Do Not Track, but many more have been recalcitrant.

It’s now time for us to watch the watchers. Track Who’s Tracking You With Mozilla Collusion. Collusion is a Firefox browser add-on that lets you track who’s tracking you across the web for behavioral targeting purposes. There is a demonstration put up at collusion.toolness.org, which takes you through five popular websites and visualizes the data collection companies that track you across them. From there, you can download the add-on if you want to see the tracking visualization of your own browsing behavior evolve in real-time.

collusion

Collusion looks to offer more transparency to users by creating a visualization of how your data is being spread to different companies as you navigate the web. Each time it detects data being sent to a behavioral tracker, it creates a red (advertisers), grey (websites) or blue dot on the visualization and shows the links between the sites you visit and the trackers they work with. Mozilla has created an online demo to show just how quickly your data ends up in the hands of dozens of different companies as you move on popular web popular sites.

If you need the source code, it’s all at github.com/toolness/collusion. For some more details take a look at Toolness Blog posting on Collusion. This is an interesting experiment to track on who is tracking you. Collusion is about alerting users to tracking that’s happening without their consent. Very interesting! The more access to metrics the better.

239 Comments

  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Wi-Fi Sniffing Lets Researchers Build Graph of Offline Social Networks
    http://mobile.slashdot.org/story/13/09/19/2041243/wi-fi-sniffing-lets-researchers-build-graph-of-offline-social-networks

    “The probe requests emitted by a smartphone as it seeks a Wi-Fi network to connect reveal the device’s manufacturer thanks to its MAC address. This can offer some information about a crowd of people by looking at the breakdown by device brand. However, because some OSes include a preferred network list (PNL) in their probes, it may be possible to use Wi-Fi sniffing to infer even more information about a group of people by looking for common SSIDs”

    Reply
  2. Tomi says:

    Advertisers Worry About Changes to ‘Cookies’
    As Google Considers New System, Madison Ave. Wrings Its Hands
    http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB10001424127887324807704579085592617339648-lMyQjAxMTAzMDEwOTExNDkyWj.html

    The possibility that Google Inc. could stop using “cookies”—codes that allow consumers to be tracked as they browse the Web—is causing concerns on Madison Avenue.

    Any drastic and sudden changes in how consumers are tracked on the Internet could significantly disrupt how business is done in the $120 billion digital-ad sector, according to ad executives, ad technology firms and analysts involved in online advertising.

    Google is considering replacing cookies with an anonymous identifier for each individual. Industry executives said they are awaiting details on Google’s possible change, but they said such a move could give the Internet search company even more power in an industry where it is already the dominant player.

    “This would be anticompetitive and potentially negatively impact all other online publishers,” said one ad industry executive.

    A person familiar with Google’s thinking said the company’s goal is to create a standardized tracking system that improves on cookies. Another person familiar with its thinking said Google is interested in making tracking work across different screens such as smartphones.

    Several industry executives said cookies have drawbacks. They have limited use on mobile phones, for example, a big issue as consumers increasingly use smartphones to surf the Web.

    “What everyone is trying to solve—in addition to consumer privacy and not making people feel creeped out—is that we are increasingly moving into a mobile world where cookies don’t work,” said Rishad Tobaccowala,

    Privacy advocates complain that cookies can easily find out and pass along sensitive information, like a person’s real name, and enable marketers to compile portraits of people’s financial histories or health information. While most websites require that people sign off on being tracked, most users are barely aware that they have given consent.

    “A lot of companies have been misusing third-party cookies,” says Nanda Kishore, chief technology officer of ShareThis, a company that places cookies. ShareThis adds that it is moving toward going “cookieless.”

    Reply
  3. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Post-PRISM, Google Confirms Quietly Moving To Make All Searches Secure, Except For Ad Clicks
    http://searchengineland.com/post-prism-google-secure-searches-172487

    In the past month, Google quietly made a change aimed at encrypting all search activity — except for clicks on ads. Google says this has been done to provide “extra protection” for searchers, and the company may be aiming to block NSA spying activity. Possibly, it’s a move to increase ad sales. Or both. Welcome to the confusing world of Google secure search.

    Two Years Ago: Secure Searching For Logged-In Users

    In October 2011, Google began encrypting searches for anyone who was logged into Google. The reason given was privacy.

    This Month: Secure Searching Being Made Default For Everyone

    Now, Google has flipped on encryption for people who aren’t even signed-in.

    “We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year. We’re now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in.”

    A Sudden Change

    One key question is “Why so suddenly?,” what prompted Google to make such a change out of the blue. And it was sudden.

    When searches are encrypted, search terms that are normally passed along to publishers after someone clicks on their links at Google get withheld. In Google Analytics, the actual term is replaced with a “Not Provided” notation.

    Over the past two years, the percentage of search terms as “not provided” has increased as Mozilla’s Firefox in July 2012, Apple’s Safari browser in iOS 6 in September 2012 and Google’s own Chrome browser in January 2013 have used encrypted search, even when people aren’t signed in at Google.

    That’s lead to a steady increase but not giant leap in “not provided” activity.

    Done To Block The NSA?

    The first is the whole US National Security Agency spying thing. In June, Google was accused of cooperating to give the NSA instant and direct access to its search data through the PRISM spying program, something the company has strongly denied. That hasn’t saved it from criticism.

    Done To Boost Ad Sales?

    The other reason is that Google recently made a change so that one of the easiest ways for publishers to see the actual terms that have been withheld over time is through the Google AdWords system.

    Privacy Loophole Remains For Advertisers

    That’s especially so given that ad search traffic has never been made secure. No encryption stops people from eavesdropping on the terms used when someone searches at Google and clicks on an ad.

    Reply
  4. Tomi Engdahl says:

    In Test Project, N.S.A. Tracked Cellphone Locations
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/us/nsa-experiment-traced-us-cellphone-locations.html?pagewanted=all

    The National Security Agency conducted a secret pilot project in 2010 and 2011 to test the collection of bulk data about the location of Americans’ cellphones, but the agency never moved ahead with such a program, according to intelligence officials.

    The existence of the pilot project was reported on Wednesday morning by The New York Times and later confirmed by James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. The project used data from cellphone towers to locate people’s cellphones.

    In his testimony, Mr. Clapper revealed few details about the project. He said that the N.S.A. does not currently collect locational information under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the provision the government says is the legal basis for the N.S.A.’s once-secret program under which it collects logs of all domestic calls from telephone companies.

    Reply
  5. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Will We Accept Eye-Tracking Gadgets?
    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2013/09/30/will-we-accept-eye-tracking-gadgets/?WT_mc_id=SA_DD_201310016000

    It seems like biometric-enabled gadgets should be a hard sell in the post-Snowden marketplace. When Apple announced the Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5s, Twitter lit up with a blaze of NSA jokes. And yet Apple sold some 4 million 5s’s in the first weekend.

    This is no surprise, of course. History suggests we’ll learn to accept any new and cool technology the industry throws at us, no matter how initially creepy. In all likelihood, our devices will soon read our prints and recognize our voices and irises. “The integration of biometrics in consumer electronics is really a forgone conclusion,” says Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis for the Consumer Electronics Association.

    But I have a theory: If—if—consumers ever draw a line, they will do so when their gadgets start tracking their eyes.

    Psychologists and other scientists have long used eye-tracking cameras for research, but the technology is just beginning to move into consumer products.

    MindFlash is beta-testing FocusAssist, an eye-tracking feature that, paired with corporate-training software, can let Human Resources know whether you really paid attention to that orientation video.

    Tobii Technology, a Swedish firm, is developing eye-tracking technology for use in laptops.

    The new Samsung GS4 smartphone pauses videos when you look away (although this isn’t true eye-tracking technology; the phone does this by tracking your face and eyes).

    Google has patented gaze-tracking technology that could allow it to charge advertisers literally by the eyeball.

    But how important is it that your phone pause videos when you look away? Does the benefit outweigh the potential loss of privacy?

    There is something intrinsically creepy about a device—manufactured by a multinational corporation that stands to profit by gathering intimate information about you—that continuously monitors the movements of your eyeballs.

    Here’s how eye-tracking works: A diode shines near-infrared light on your eyeball, while a camera continuously takes photos of your eye. “It’s looking for two pieces of information: the shape and the orientation of the pupil, and reflectance from the cornea,” says Michael Hout, a visual cognition researcher at New Mexico State University. A processor then builds a 3D representation of your eye. “If it can figure out how much your eye is rotated, it can figure out where your eye is pointed.” Thus, it can figure out what you are paying attention to.

    An eye-tracking gadget knows where you’re looking before you know yourself. It seems to have the ability to spy on the interior of your consciousness.

    Reply
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  7. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Yahoo hit with new lawsuit over email scanning in wake of Gmail ruling
    http://gigaom.com/2013/10/03/yahoo-hit-with-new-lawsuit-over-email-scanning-in-wake-of-gmail-ruling/

    Summary:
    A court ruling last week may have opened the door for non Gmail users to sue Google over email scanning. Now, a similar lawsuit has hit Yahoo.

    Can big email providers scan your messages in order to serve you relevant advertising? Google and Yahoo have long assumed the answer is yes, which is one of the reasons the giant companies provide free email to millions of people.

    Last week, however, a federal judge in California refused to throw out a class action case against Google, ruling that people who swapped messages with Gmail users — but do not use Gmail themselves — had never given the search giant permission to read their email.

    As a result, the judge ruled that Google could not simply say that the Wiretap Act did not apply, and permitted the case to go forwards towards a trial.

    Yahoo was hit with a similar lawsuit over email scanning in 2012, but court records show the parties voluntarily dismissed that suit early this year.

    Reply
  8. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Facebook Graph Search can now paw through your posts and status updates
    http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2013/10/02/facebook-graph-search-can-now-paw-through-your-posts-and-status-updates/

    It’s been nearly 10 months, but finally, the wait is over: We can now run Facebook searches to find single women who like men and like getting drunk and who might happen to mention such things in posts and status updates.

    Thanks goes to the rollout of Facebook Graph Search’s ability to search every single public Facebook post and status update ever made, announced by Facebook on Monday.

    The searches can be modified by time – “All of my posts from 2012,” for example – location, or the people who participated.

    Graph Search for post and status updates is rolling out slowly to a small group of people who currently have Graph Search, Facebook says

    Privacy controls still pertain.

    Those who run Graph Searches can only see content that has been shared with them, including posts shared publicly by people who aren’t friends.

    But it’s worth noting that the broadening of Graph Search’s capabilities opens up all public posts ever, as well as any posted shared directly to each user, to aggregation.

    To maintain privacy and keep strangers out of your conversations and unaware of your activity, don’t use hashtags.

    Also, to maintain privacy, use privacy controls. Millions of Facebook users are oblivious to, or just don’t use, privacy controls.

    To see who can find the things you’ve shared, you can use privacy shortcuts and Activity Log to review your personal trail of glory and misdeeds to find out just what was shared publicly.

    Go to Facebook’s Activity Log page to find a list of your posts and activity, from today back to the dawn of your Facebook life.

    There, you can find stories and photos you’ve been tagged in, Pages you’ve liked, friends you’ve added, your photos, and photos you’re tagged in that are shared with Public.

    It’s been about 9.5 months since the launch.

    Imagine what people have thought to search for in that time?

    Reply
  9. Tomi Engdahl says:

    How to find single women who like men *and* like getting drunk, with Facebook Graph Search
    http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2013/01/28/privacy-facebook-graph-search/

    Earlier this month, Facebook announced an upcoming new feature that would help users explore the social network in a “whole new way”.

    Currently in limited beta, Facebook Graph Search, provides Facebook users with an easier way to find the information you have shared on the social network.

    Alarm bells rang in the heads of the privacy-conscious, disturbed that Facebook Graph Search might dredge up data about yourself that you once posted (and have forgotten about) or how the system could be used to cross-relate different pieces of information about you with potentially uncomfortable or unpleasant results.

    It’s the responsibility of each Facebook user to be mindful of what information they share on the social network – and realise that they can’t shirk off the part they played in publishing the information in the first place.

    This information was always there on Facebook, it’s just that Graph Search makes it easier to extract and join the dots than ever before.

    Maybe it would be wise if everyone double-checked their Facebook account, their past posts and Likes, and remove anything which they feel might be unwise to share once Facebook Graph Search is unleashed more widely.

    Reply
  10. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Judge: Google’s Tracking Not Harmful
    http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2013/10/10/judge-googles-tracking-not-harmful/

    It just got even tougher to stop a company from tracking your movements online.

    A federal judge in Delaware Wednesday dismissed a class-action lawsuit brought against GoogleGOOG +1.43% and two other tech companies, arguing that the Web users who brought the case couldn’t prove that Google’s tracking practices caused them harm.

    The plaintiffs were users of web browsers from AppleAAPL +0.62% and MicrosoftMSFT +2.09%, which have settings that block “cookies,” the tiny pieces of code placed on computers to track users’ movements as they browse the Internet. The plaintiffs alleged that Google, and online advertisers Vibrant Media and the Media Innovation Group, had “tricked” the browsers into accepting cookies, and as a result were subject to targeted ads.

    U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson wrote that the companies had circumvented the browsers’ settings, allowing users’ personal information to be sold to ad companies. But the judge said that the plaintiffs couldn’t show that they suffered because the companies collected and sold their information.

    A Google spokeswoman said the company was “pleased” with the decision, which was earlier reported by Bloomberg. “Protecting the privacy and security of our users is one of our top priorities,” Google said in an emailed statement.

    Reply
  11. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The Internet’s best hope for a Do Not Track standard is falling apart. Here’s why.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/10/11/the-internets-best-hope-for-a-do-not-track-standard-is-falling-apart-heres-why/?tid=rssfeed

    Should businesses be forced to stop tracking your movements on the Internet?

    It sounds like a simple question. But judging by the growing despair among members of a diverse group assigned by a standards body to resolve just this issue, the answer is hardly clear. The task force itself is deeply divided; in a member survey completed Wednesday, half of respondents — albeit a minority of the entire working group — said the negotiations weren’t working and should be abandoned.

    “This proceeding is so flawed — it’s a farce,” wrote Jeffrey Chester, executive director of a privacy group involved in the talks, in a comment. “Global online users deserve better.”

    The working group is affiliated with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the official custodian of Web standards. It was initially brought together to develop a negotiated approach to online behavioral tracking. The collection of ad companies, privacy advocates and outside experts were supposed to settle a longstanding debate about consumer privacy and help determine the future of advertising technology.

    But what began as cautious engagement among these groups has devolved into open revolt against the process.

    “We appreciate the efforts of the W3C and all of the chairs to date,” wrote Lee Tien, a top lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “but EFF has lost confidence that the process will produce a standard that we would support. We therefore prefer that the group simply end. If the group continues, we would seriously consider dropping out.”

    The impending collapse of the Do Not Track conversation is part of a broader failure to agree on what obligations advertising companies have with regard to online tracking — and what the word “tracking” even means.

    But while the opt-out function is meant to guarantee the end of targeted Web advertising, it doesn’t rule out the collection of consumer data, said EFF’s Tien in an interview.

    “The issue for us is, do they know that I or my browser or my mobile device visited this Web site at this time,” said Tien. “The issue then becomes whether there are any ways of preventing that kind of collection and compilation of Web browsing history.”

    An explicit rule on data collection would have far more reach than a rule about Web advertising as ad companies increasingly devise new ways to perform behavioral tracking.

    The deadlock over how to define tracking encouraged another faction — engineers — to move ahead on their own.

    Browser manufacturers such as Microsoft and Mozilla have taken steps to implement their own vision of Do Not Track as a separate setting — which, when enabled, sends a signal to Web sites indicating that the user doesn’t want to be served targeted ads. That move, however, raised another question: Is it better for companies to implement technical fixes on an ad hoc basis, or is it better to settle on a broad-based agreement that can be applied consistently?

    letting the browsers take matters into their own hands could be risky. While a Do Not Track browser setting might keep customers from being served targeted advertising, it might also block desirable cookies that are necessary for displaying other forms of content. Meanwhile, the advertising industry would be disrupted by a technical standard it had no say in implementing.

    “In an arms race, advertisers lose,” said Polonetsky in an interview. “Consumers and the technology that supports them may prevail, but that’s not a good place for companies to be.”

    Reply
  12. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Google readying ‘Mobile Meter’ app that offers rewards for tracking mobile usage (updated)
    http://www.engadget.com/2013/10/14/google-mobile-meter-tracking-ios-android-app/

    Google already knows better than most how we use the internet. Now it wants to dig a little deeper and monitor your app usage as well. Engadget has learned that the company is readying a new mobile service that compensates users if they allow their mobile behavior to be monitored. We’re told that the project, known internally as “Mobile Meter,” utilizes iOS and Android apps that intelligently monitor app usage and web browsing habits and send the data back to Google.

    Google refused to comment, as it usually does on what it considers “rumor and speculation.” However, our sources tell us that the Mobile Meter program will be totally voluntary.

    Google already passively collects data to improve its apps and resources. The Google Maps app, for instance, regularly feeds back location metrics to enhance the service.

    Google has confirmed the development of the new apps, which it says are part of its Screenwise market research project that began rolling out last year.

    Reply
  13. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The retaliation begins: Google profiles get Schmidt-faced
    http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-57607238-71/the-retaliation-begins-google-profiles-get-schmidt-faced/

    In a protest over Google now grabbing users’ profile photos for ads, some people have apparently decided to change their shot to a photo of Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

    There’s nothing like a good protest, is there?

    People get together. They screech and they scream. Then they go back home and everything stays the same.

    The latest public movement appears to be in protest of Google’s decision to make its services (even) more like Facebook.

    In a stunningly predictable decision, Google has decided to use your name and profile to bolster the blinding authenticity of its advertising.

    Yes, without paying you. Well, this is the free economy, isn’t it?

    Oddly, some people seem stunned by this — despite the fact that the program largely resembles Facebook’s Sponsored Stories.

    The core of this isn’t really that Google wants to use for its benefit every last morsel of information we put out there. We always knew about that, didn’t we? Instead, isn’t the heart of the issue our strange compulsion to tell the world who we are, what we like, and what we don’t?

    Social networking and its online cousins aren’t so much about sharing, they’re about personal validation.

    Reply
  14. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Think You Can Live Offline Without Being Tracked? Here’s What It Takes
    http://www.fastcompany.com/3019847/think-you-can-live-offline-without-being-tracked-heres-what-it-takes

    We asked the most privacy-aware people we could find what it would take to go off the radar. Hint: You’re going to need to do more than throw away your laptop.

    Reply
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  17. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Tracking Companies Agree to Notify Shoppers, But Retailers Demur
    http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2013/10/22/tracking-companies-agree-to-notify-shoppers-but-retailers-demur/

    Shoppers may soon learn which stores have been watching them as they stroll through the aisles.

    Over the last two years, retailers such as Nordstrom have hired software firms that gather Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals emitted from smartphones to monitor shoppers’ movements around stores. They use the data to study things like wait times at the check-out line and how many people who browse actually make a purchase.

    Most of the time, consumers have no idea that they’re being tracked.

    Now that could change. In response to growing public unease about privacy, on Tuesday a group of companies providing retailers with location tracking services agreed to give consumers notice that they are tracking them — and to encourage retail companies they work with to post instructions explaining how to opt-out of tracking.

    Even without signs, he says, consumers can opt-out from tracking in all stores via the Smartstoreprivacy website.

    The tracking companies have agreed to only collect aggregate information about people’s movements and to scrub information that could tie the smartphones back to the identity of their owners.

    Reply
  18. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Tim Berners-Lee wants an open web and whistleblowers protected
    WWW inventor wants a slightly wilder world wide web
    http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2302586/tim-berners-lee-wants-an-open-web-and-whistleblowers-protected

    WORLD WIDE WEB INVENTOR Sir Tim Berners-Lee has spoken out about the importance of an open web and made the case for a system that fosters whistleblowers.

    An obvious hot topic is web privacy, or rather, the lack of privacy on the internet.

    The US National Security Agency (NSA) and UK Government Communications Head Quarters (GCHQ) were not named, but Berners-Lee did say that there needs to be a balance between police power and human rights.

    Asked whether there should be trade-off between privacy and cybercrime, he said that is “a hard question to answer” as it balances so many important values against each other – police power versus human rights.

    “Whenever you have a police force that has strong powers of any sort, you need to have an agency to hold them accountable. The question is who will guard the guards,” he added.

    “They must be responsible to the public, to be able to assure people that our human rights are not being violated behind our backs.”

    “In the US and the UK the systems of accountability have failed, only one group protects us from abuse and that is whistleblowers,” he observed.

    “Whistleblowers need special protection even if they have violated laws. We can’t trust that any system won’t go astray, however much good will, so we have to rely on the whistleblower.”

    Unsurprisingly, Berners-Lee wants things to be as open as possible.

    Reply
  19. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Memo to Workers: The Boss Is Watching
    Tracking Technology Shakes Up the Workplace
    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303672404579151440488919138

    Dennis Gray suspected that workers in his pest-control company were spending too much time on personal issues during the workday. So the general manager of Accurid Pest Solutions in southern Virginia quietly installed a piece of GPS tracking software on the company-issued smartphones of five of its 18 drivers.

    The software allowed Mr. Gray to log onto his computer to see a map displaying the location and movement of his staff.

    “We were certainly impressed with the software,” said Mr. Gray.

    Blue-collar workers have always been kept on a tight leash, but there is a new level of surveillance available to bosses these days. Thanks to mobile devices and inexpensive monitoring software, managers can now know where workers are, eavesdrop on their phone calls, tell if a truck driver is wearing his seat belt and intervene if he is tailgating.

    “Twenty-five years ago this was pipe dream stuff,” said Paul Sangster, CEO of JouBeh Technologies, a Canadian company that develops tracking, or “telematics,” technology for businesses. “Now it is commonly accepted that you are being tracked.”

    Office workers have come to expect that their every keystroke is tracked on a server somewhere, but monitoring for hourly and wage workers has long been limited to video cameras in the break room and GPS on delivery trucks. Companies are now watching a wider swath of blue-collar workers more closely to ensure work is getting done.

    A 2012 report from research firm Aberdeen Group found that 37% of companies that send employees out on service calls track the real-time location of workers via their hand-held devices or vehicles.

    “It’s not a question of whether companies should monitor,” said Lewis Maltby, founder of the National Workrights Institute, which promotes employee privacy. “It’s a question of how.”

    Reply
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  21. Tomi Engdahl says:

    How the W3C met its Waterloo at the Do Not Track vote showdown
    And why the silent majority could defeat the web’s madmen
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/11/05/do_not_track_w3c_ads_privacy/

    The W3C has set some important rules governing the adoption of web technologies. Yet on the issue of privacy, the standards shop has met its Waterloo.

    By establishing things like XML and HTML as standards, the W3C has helped ensure the web works everywhere – no matter what web server or browser you’re using.

    After two years’ work a standard for Do Not Track (DNT) in the browser – something the W3C calls Tracking Preference Expression (TPE) – has hit a wall. A vote of no confidence among those working on TPE has all but killed the effort.

    Why? Because the vote saw the group split along nakedly partisan lines – the tech companies’ and ad-makers’ representatives, with the latter saying they had no confidence in the group’s work on TPE.

    The Digital Advertising Association (DAA) – whose members include banks, car makers, pharma giants, media operations and other technology makers – says it’s now done with the W3C work and is pushing its own, ad-friendly solution. The prospect of an agreement on blocking targeted ads and on allowing online tracking seems doomed, with the admen splitting off to do their own thing.

    How did it come to this Simple: money. And mobile.

    Unlike on the desktop, where Google reigns as king, the mobile web is a naked scramble because no one search engine or ads network dominates. No-one company dominates to the same extent, although Google is getting close. eMarketer in August said 48 per cent of US mobile ad revenue would go to Google this year.

    Facebook is the ads mens’ number-two target behind Google; 15 per cent of ads spend is expected to go to Mark Zuckerberg’s company by the end of this year

    Twitter, Pandora and YP are expected to be the next biggest three, although in single digits.

    The amount of money spent by those trying to target you on mobile was set to grow in 2013: eight out of 10 US ads buyers said last year they’d increase what they spend on mobile ads in the coming 12-18 months, with three quarters saying they’d devote at least five per cent of their total ad budget on mobile.

    That means advertising and marketing types want to get out front quickly as possible. Erecting fences now handicaps their potential to make money in the future.

    Reply
  22. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Firefox cookie blocking effort delayed again, as Mozilla commitment wavers
    http://blog.sfgate.com/techchron/2013/11/06/firefox-cookie-blocking-effort-delayed-again-as-mozilla-commitment-wavers/

    Mozilla’s plans to automatically block certain cookies in its Firefox browser earned praise from privacy advocates and disdain from the ad industry when it was announced earlier this year. But at this point it’s not clear when it will happen — or if it will at all.

    The Mountain View open source software foundation revealed eight months ago that it was testing a tool that would restrict tracking files by default from companies users didn’t interact with. The early expectation was that it would reach the general public in Firefox version 22, released in late June.

    But a few months later, Mozilla halted the patch midway through the testing process. Then it announced it was “committing to work” with the Cookie Clearinghouse initiative at Stanford on a more nuanced approach.

    Now that effort is on hold, pushing completion of the project well into next year, The Chronicle has learned. Even then, Mozilla won’t necessarily adopt the feature, an executive said in an interview.

    “That remains to be seen,” said Harvey Anderson, senior vice president of business and legal affairs. “Once that’s out there, I think you still have to compare that against the other systems and ecosystems being proposed.”

    Mozilla’s Anderson rightly points out that there are many plans floating around that promise to fundamentally alter the way tracking occurs online, likely shortening the shelf life of cookies and shifting power in the online ad space.

    Reply
  23. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Google Is Testing A Program That Tracks You Everywhere You Go
    http://www.businessinsider.com.au/google-testing-retail-tracking-program-2013-11

    Google is beta-testing a program that tracks users’ purchasing habits by registering brick-and-mortar store visits via smartphones, according to a report from Digiday.

    Google can access user data via Android apps or their Apple iOS apps, like Google search, Gmail, Chrome, or Google Maps.

    If a customer is using these apps while he shops or has them still running in the background, Google’s new program pinpoints the origin of the user data and determines if the customer is in a place of business.

    Google gets permission to do this kind of tracking when Android users opt in to the “location services” option in their smartphone’s options menu and when iOS users agree to allow “location services” for Google apps like Gmail and Google Maps.

    The program was hinted at in an AdWords blog post from Oct. 1 regarding Google’s new “estimated total conversions” initiative.

    Reply
  24. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Kids Do Not Track Bill Introduced
    Now-Senator Markey teams with Rep. Joe Barton, others, on new effort
    http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/496586-Kids_Do_Not_Track_Bill_Introduced.php

    As expected, Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) have reintroduced House and Senate versions of their Do Not Track Kids Act, which would, among other things, extend Markey’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) protections for “collection, use and disclosure of children’s personal information” to teenagers 13-15.

    It would also create an “eraser button” for personal info online and a digital marketing “bill of rights” that includes limiting geo-location information collection.

    COPPA protections currently only apply to kids 12 and under.

    Reply
  25. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Google reaches $17-million privacy settlement with 37 states
    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-google-privacy-20131118,0,3949416.story#axzz2l1zbtYCC

    Google Inc. reached a $17-million settlement with 37 U.S. states over its circumvention of privacy settings for some Internet users.

    The company, based in Mountain View, Calif., overrode default settings for Apple Inc.’s Safari browser that blocked cookies, small pieces of code that can allow companies to monitor consumer Web surfing, according to the office of the New York attorney general.

    Google, owner of the world’s most popular search engine, allowed cookies to be set on consumers’ browsers through its DoubleClick advertising platform, according to the attorney general’s office.

    The company halted that coding method in February 2012 after the practice was reported in the media. Google agreed to changes including no longer deploying that type of code unless necessary to address fraud, security or technical issues and improving the information it provides to consumers about its use of cookies, according to the attorney general’s office.

    “Consumers should be able to know whether there are other eyes surfing the Web with them,” New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman said Monday in a statement. “By tracking millions of people without their knowledge, Google violated not only their privacy, but also their trust.”

    Reply
  26. Tomi Engdahl says:

    LG Smart TVs logging USB filenames and viewing info to LG servers
    http://doctorbeet.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/lg-smart-tvs-logging-usb-filenames-and.html

    Earlier this month I discovered that my new LG Smart TV was displaying ads on the Smart landing screen.

    After some investigation, I found a rather creepy corporate video advertising their data collection practices to potential advertisers. It’s quite long but a sample of their claims are as follows:

    LG Smart Ad analyses users favourite programs, online behaviour, search keywords and other information to offer relevant ads to target audiences. For example, LG Smart Ad can feature sharp suits to men, or alluring cosmetics and fragrances to women.

    At this point, I decided to do some traffic analysis to see what was being sent. It turns out that viewing information appears to be being sent regardless of whether this option is set to On or Off.

    Here you can clearly see that a unique device ID is transmitted, along with the Channel name “BBC NEWS” and a unique device ID.

    This information appears to be sent back unencrypted and in the clear to LG every time you change channel, even if you have gone to the trouble of changing the setting above to switch collection of viewing information off.

    I noticed filenames were being posted to LG’s servers and that these filenames were ones stored on my external USB hard drive.

    My wife was shocked to see our children’s names being transmitted in the name of a Christmas video file that we had watched from USB.

    So what does LG have to say about this?

    So how can we prevent this from happening?

    Reply
  27. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Internet daddy Vint Cerf: ‘Privacy may be an ANOMALY’
    ‘Our social behaviour [online] is quite damaging’
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/11/20/vint_cerf_privacy_may_be_an_anomaly_online/

    Vint Cerf has said that expectations of privacy in the digital age may be impossible to achieve because of the level of oversharing that takes place on social media sites.

    “it will be increasingly difficult for us to achieve privacy”, according to a series of tweets from Adweek reporter Katy Bachman.

    Cerf – who is Google’s chief internet preacher – added: “Privacy may be an anomaly.”

    “Our social behavior is quite damaging to privacy. Technology has outraced our social intellect,” Cerf said

    Reply
  28. Tomi Engdahl says:

    LG investigates Smart TV ‘unauthorised spying’ claim
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-25018225

    LG is investigating allegations that some of its TVs send details about their owners’ viewing habits back to the manufacturer even if the users have activated a privacy setting.

    It follows a blog by a UK-based IT consultant who detailed how his Smart TV was sending data about which channels were being watched.

    His investigation also indicated that the TVs uploaded information about the contents of devices attached to the TV.

    It could mean LG has broken the law.

    The Information Commissioner’s Office told the BBC it was looking into the issue.

    “We have recently been made aware of a possible data breach which may involve LG Smart TVs,” said a spokesman.

    “We will be making enquiries into the circumstances of the alleged breach of the Data Protection Act before deciding what action, if any, needs to be taken.”

    When the consultant – Hull-based Jason Huntley – contacted the South Korean company he was told that by using the TV he had accepted LG’s terms and conditions, and that any remaining concerns should be directed to the retailer who had sold him the screen.

    But when the BBC contacted LG, it indicated it was looking into the complaint.

    Mr Huntley said he had first come across the issue in October when he had begun researching how his Smart TV had been able to show his family tailored adverts on its user interface.

    Digging into the TV’s menu system, he had noticed that an option called “collection of watching info” had been switched on by default, he said.

    “That’s a terrible implementation of the idea,” Mr Huntley told the BBC.

    “It still sends the traffic but labels it saying I didn’t want it to be sent.

    “”It’s actually worse, I think, than if they’d not offered the optout in the first place since it allows the user to believe nothing is being sent.”

    Reply
  29. Tomi Engdahl says:

    LG promises to stop your Smart TV spying on you
    http://www.engadget.com/2013/11/21/lg-admits-smart-tv-data-collection/

    In light of accusations that its Smart TVs were sending private data to its servers, LG has admitted that some of its sets are behaving in ways they shouldn’t be.

    In a statement, the Korean manufacturer conceded that it has been collecting channel, TV platform and broadcast source data from some units, even when the feature was switched off.

    In response to claims it was also beaming over names of files located on connected USB keys, LG admits that it actually forms part of an upcoming service that searches the internet for detailed information on a particular film or TV show.

    Understandably, both features might leave a nasty taste in your mouth, especially if you own one of the affected Smart TVs.

    working on a new firmware update that will ensure its data-collection settings adhere to user preferences

    Reply
  30. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Wolfram’s new equation: Mathematica+RPi=child geniuses everywhere
    Mathematica will be baked into future Raspbian releases
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/11/22/mathematica_raspberry_pi/

    Los Bros Wolfram have thrown their weight behind the Raspberry Pi and its mission to get more kiddies coding, by offering up their signature product Mathematica as a free inclusion in future versions of Raspbian.

    Pi Daddy Eben Upton has offered up predictable praise for the offering, saying Wolfram and his mates in the computer-based maths movement are “trying to bring about the same sort of change in the teaching of other subjects that we’re aiming for in computing.”

    It looks like Wolfram Research has ported Mathematica to the Pi

    Reply
  31. Tomi Engdahl says:

    NSA uses Google cookies to pinpoint targets for hacking
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/12/10/nsa-uses-google-cookies-to-pinpoint-targets-for-hacking/

    The National Security Agency is secretly piggybacking on the tools that enable Internet advertisers to track consumers, using “cookies” and location data to pinpoint targets for government hacking and to bolster surveillance.

    The agency’s internal presentation slides, provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, show that when companies follow consumers on the Internet to better serve them advertising, the technique opens the door for similar tracking by the government. The slides also suggest that the agency is using these tracking techniques to help identify targets for offensive hacking operations.

    For years, privacy advocates have raised concerns about the use of commercial tracking tools to identify and target consumers with advertisements. The online ad industry has said its practices are innocuous and benefit consumers by serving them ads that are more likely to be of interest to them.

    The revelation that the NSA is piggybacking on these commercial technologies could shift that debate, handing privacy advocates a new argument for reining in commercial surveillance.

    Reply
  32. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Gmail blows up e-mail marketing by caching all images on Google servers
    Hosted images mean better privacy, faster load times, and less competition for Google.
    http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/12/gmail-blows-up-e-mail-marketing-by-caching-all-images-on-google-servers/

    Ever wonder why most e-mail clients hide images by default? The reason for the “display images” button is because images in an e-mail must be loaded from a third-party server. For promotional e-mails and spam, usually this server is operated by the entity that sent the e-mail. So when you load these images, you aren’t just receiving an image—you’re also sending a ton of data about yourself to the e-mail marketer.

    Loading images from these promotional e-mails reveals a lot about you. Marketers get a rough idea of your location via your IP address. They can see the HTTP referrer, meaning the URL of the page that requested the image. With the referral data, marketers can see not only what client you are using (desktop app, Web, mobile, etc.) but also what folder you were viewing the e-mail in.

    But Google has just announced a move that will shut most of these tactics down: it will cache all images for Gmail users. Embedded images will now be saved by Google, and the e-mail content will be modified to display those images from Google’s cache, instead of from a third-party server. E-mail marketers will no longer be able to get any information from images—they will see a single request from Google, which will then be used to send the image out to all Gmail users.

    Reply
  33. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Steelie Neelie: EU biz can use YOUR private data WITHOUT PERMISSION
    ‘Part-anonymise’ it and you’re good to go, says unelected digital czar
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/12/16/unelected_digital_czar_data_slurping_without_consent/

    Businesses should be allowed to process part-anonymised, or pseudonymised, data without the consent of individuals whose data it is in certain circumstances, a senior EU official has said.

    Neelie Kroes, the EU Commissioner responsible for the Digital Agenda, said that companies should be able to process pseudonymised data without consent where they have a ‘legitimate interest’ in doing so. In a speech at a data protection congress held by the International Association of Privacy Professionals Europe in Brussels, Kroes said she supported proposed reforms to the EU’s existing data protection framework that were backed by a committee of MEPs in October.

    Under those plans, businesses would have the right to use data that they collect from individuals more freely, and in accordance with the data protection regime, if they pseudonymised the information. If data was fully anonymised then data protection laws would not apply to the information at all, but Kroes said that some of the benefits that can be gleaned from making use of personal information can be lost if data is anonymised. She said she backed plans that would permit the use of pseudonymised data without consent if certain criteria were met.

    Reply
  34. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Your personal data is worth a measly eight bucks a month
    Post-broker dangles cash for right to sniff social emissions and spending habits
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/02/14/your_personal_data_is_worth_a_measly_eight_bucks_a_month/

    You’ve heard it a zillion times by now: if an online service is free, you are the product.

    A New York company called Datacoup is trying to turn that notion on its head a bit, by paying you if you let it monitor your online activities and also let it tap into a stream of information about your credit and/or debit card.

    In return, the company will give you eight whole US dollars a month.

    Reply
  35. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Ad tracking: Is anything being done?
    http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9247217/Ad_tracking_Is_anything_being_done_

    With online tracking on the rise and Do Not Track efforts moving ahead slowly, users and browser vendors have been taking matters into their own hands.

    Reply
  36. Tomi Engdahl says:

    How advertising cookies let observers follow you across the web
    http://www.theverge.com/2014/4/4/5581884/how-advertising-cookies-let-observers-follow-you-across-the-web

    Back in December, documents revealed the NSA had been using Google’s ad-tracking cookies to follow browsers across the web, effectively coopting ad networks into surveillance networks. A new paper from computer scientists at Princeton breaks down exactly how easy it is, even without the resources and access of the NSA. The researchers were able to reconstuct as much as 90% of a user’s web activity just from monitoring traffic to ad-trackers like Google’s DoubleClick. Crucially, the researchers didn’t need any special access to the ad data. They just sat back and watched public traffic across the network.

    Reply
  37. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Google Tests a Way to Follow You to the Mall
    Internet Giant Working With Advertisers to Match Web Users to Their Purchases at Stores
    http://online.wsj.com/news/article_email/SB10001424052702303847804579479672289163220-lMyQjAxMTA0MDEwMTExNDEyWj

    Retailers have long struggled to determine whether online ads fuel sales in their bricks-and-mortar stores. Now, Google Inc. GOOGL -1.63% is testing a way to solve that puzzle.

    A pilot program launched by the Internet giant is helping about six advertisers match the anonymous tracking cookies on users’ computers to in-store sales information collected by data providers like Acxiom Corp. ACXM -2.99% and DataLogix Holdings Inc., according to people familiar with the test.

    Online advertising has grown into a $117 billion-a-year business, and Google is the industry’s leader, with ad revenue of $50.5 billion last year.

    Google’s new pilot program, dubbed In-Store Attribution Transaction Reporting in AdWords

    Google rival Facebook Inc. FB -1.06% has been tapping data on physical-store sales since late 2012 to demonstrate the effectiveness of advertising on its site.

    Reply
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