bit-tech.net

On Internet Privacy

Posted on 22nd Mar 2011 at 07:37 by Paul Goodhead with 36 comments

Paul Goodhead
I’m starting to get frustrated by the way in which the debate about internet privacy is currently being waged. There appears to be a constant media buzz about how we’re all at terrible risk from hawkish advertisers who are just waiting to swoop in, steal our browsing history and then make millions from it.

I hope I’m not alone in my disdain for this alarmist and arguably ignorant view of how the Internet works.

I should be clear of course; I’m not against internet privacy. Neither am I advocating any kind of Big Brother-esque government monitoring of internet traffic. My beef lies with the panicky reactions we’ve seen from the media, governments, the EU and many internet users in regards to internet privacy.

Barely a month goes by without a story about how Facebook is planning to sell customer details to advertisers. This then sparks inevitable outrage from users who feel they’ve been wronged in some way before Facebook backs down again, forced to go back to the drawing board and work out how it can actually make money from its social media machine.

The Facebook example is a particularly good case study, actually. I find it constantly amazing that people will be splashing around drunken photos of themselves on it one week, and then the next week will denounce Facebook for telling an advertiser they’ve listed fashion in their interests. Granted they’ve made the choice to put up the pictures but haven’t had a say in whether Facebook has shared their details or not, but is the value of what Facebook is sharing really so great to them?

On Internet Privacy on privacy in facebook
Facebook - privacy bogeyman or just trying to make money?

It gets even more paradoxical when you point out that Facebook can’t share information it doesn’t have; users have to make the choice to upload personal information such as their interests, location and relationship status. I know that this information is then only available to friends, but I find it’s those with a friends list numbering in the high hundreds or even thousands that often complain the loudest when they feel their privacy has been violated. How much privacy did you think you had exactly while you were broadcasting every status update, photo and even your location to every person you’ve ever met?

The fact that Facebook has always been and will always be free also seems to be forgotten, lost in the backlash at Facebook’s audacity at actually trying to make some money while keeping its service free.

The majority of the fuss centres on the cookies that get downloaded to consumers' PCs that can track their movements and report back on what they've been viewing. Advertisers can then use this information to better target adverts at that particular PC, hopefully improving their effectiveness and their relevance to the user.

This sounds like a win-win situation to me, but for those who don’t like the sound of it then privacy controls have existed in web browsers for years. There are even privacy-specific browsers out there, free to download for whoever wants them. These options have been consistently ignored by consumers, though, who only seem to take net privacy seriously when it’s accompanied by a scare mongering headline.

On Internet Privacy on privacy in facebook
Some don't have a choice about their privacy

It's also ironic that internet privacy will often make news headlines right next to articles about the latest celebrity relationship gossip, or paparazzi snaps of the royals. We love to pry into other people’s lives but don’t like it so much when the boot is on the other foot and it’s our own details being shared.

A part of the problem is down to the fact that companies are still trying to work out how best to make money from the Internet, especially in the current economic climate. This is forcing companies to investigate other revenue streams beyond the traditional advertising model; a strategy that's going to lead to a number of conflicts as companies attempt to find where the line of acceptability lies.

Unfortunately for us, though, public opinion needs to change too. The opinion that the Internet is free seems commonplace, but behind most news stories, articles or online services is someone who needs to earn a wage. The first moves have been made in changing this perception - the recent move by The Times of charging for online content is the obvious example - but it'll be a long hard road to get people to pay for what has been free for so long.

How successful the approach adopted by The Times has been will only become known with time, but changes are definitely afoot on the big old World Wide Web. Regardless of what shape these changes take, it’ll be an interesting place to watch for the next ten years. Let us know your thoughts in the forums.

36 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
BRAWL 22nd March 2011, 09:00 Quote
I wrote about the very same thing some months ago on an old blog.

People think of themselves too highly online, just because youre on facebook doesnt mean youre as important as a celeb, really it doesnt.

If facebook sold the fact i like, i dunno... 'hardstyle' on my profile who cares?
urobulos 22nd March 2011, 09:09 Quote
Good article. I see no reason to get bombarded with useless ads, so if sometimes I have no choice except to watch an ad, I'd rather it was somehow aligned with my hobbies. Sure, I'd rather not have ads anywhere, but if they have to exist, make the experience less painful. If I wrote on Facebook that I'm interested in hardware and some of the Liked pages include Asus, Gigabyte, etc. then I would be ok with getting ads for motherboards instead of lawnmowers or fishing equipment.

Online privacy is a real problem, but I don't think Facebook is part of that problem. One should always assume that whatever goes up on that website becomes public knowledge. Especially if you have a friends list of 500+ people... Besides does it really matter whether some company knows what you put on Facebook? I understand privacy issues regarding things like leaking medical data, or even forum memberships in some cases (like AA support sites). But seriously, is knowing what genres of music I like really that bad?

The most interesting bit of the article came at the end though. The conflict between the need to monetize internet and people's habit of taking things from the internet for free will be one of the most interesting developments over the next 5-10 years. Recently I realised that every good article on a web portal I visit occasionally is a reprint from a newspaper. Every news items that was not reprinted was poorly written, contained many stylistic errors and did not look like something written by a professional journalist. There is quality web exclusive content out there, but much of the growth of internet as a medium was done through cannibalizing traditional media. If one wants quality content, someone talented has to create it and be rewarded for it. Even with targeted ads, surely there is only a certain level you can reach just by using the free content model. Sure, I'd rather have my entertainment and news for free, but at the end of the day it is unsustainable. The only problem is to establish what pricing levels are fair and for many people any answer other than "nothing" will feel like a rip off.
Siwini 22nd March 2011, 09:11 Quote
Never understood the mentality of sharing everything stupid and private on facebook. I just don’t get it. Who cares where you sht or sleep or who's knocking you over. Seriously people make news headlines because their employer fired thebeacause of what ppl upload on facebook. I just don’t get it..why?
mi1ez 22nd March 2011, 09:46 Quote
The biggest problem with internet privacy is generally the hardware between seat and keyboard.
barrkel 22nd March 2011, 09:51 Quote
Your Facebook account most likely contains your real name. Every website you go to that has a Facebook Like button on it and downloads the image for that Like button sends off your Facebook cookie with that request. That in turn means that your real name is associated with every view of a web page with the Facebook like button. Are you really comfortable with signing off on every page viewed like that?

Personally, I only ever log on to Facebook on a secondary browser, and have adblocked Facebook entirely on my main browser.

On the topic of targeted ads, I don't think they exist, at least not for me. I make buying decisions based on research and recommendations, so in so far as you recommend hardware at least in part on the basis of donations and loaners from hardware companies (if only because you wouldn't have access to the hardware to test it otherwise), I'm influenced by marketing spend; and I'll use affiliate links if they're available and handy and I have good reason to believe that they're the best prices available; but ads? No thanks.

Furthermore, this rant of yours is predicated on the notion that consumers should feel obliged to put up with ads in order to support content creation. That's not the way economics works. Incentives matter. When readers vote to avoid ads by using technology which thwarts it, and supporting politicians who enact rules that curb tracking etc., they are exercising their lawful free will and pursuit of happiness. You have no moral or legal right to enforce a different situation by moral guilt-tripping, and I for one won't put up with it. If free sites wither on the vine owing to lack of ad viewers, so be it - that's the way the economics cookie crumbles. Find a more sustainable income source instead; find a different business model; but don't go crying about people who won't watch ads.
greigaitken 22nd March 2011, 09:58 Quote
I'd rather have targeted ads than the typical "meet hundreds of bored houswives in your area" or "get white teeth and lose fat with the latest secret i discovered" unless of course i was single, fat and had really bad teeth.
barrkel 22nd March 2011, 10:02 Quote
Also, I find the idea by some of the above commenters that newspaper articles are quality completely laughable. There are a handful of good bits in some newspapers, but by and large journalists are decent writers - they even have decent spelling and grammar with the aid of some copy editors - but the actual truth and veracity of what they write is highly suspect. The reason is that journalists are selected largely on the basis of how well they write copy, not how much they know about their beat. Most of what you find in the newspaper comes out of press releases and court and police reports, another chunk from vanity columns by people who've acquired enough fame to get an audience, along with a bunch of opinionated yet clueless blowhards who get the peanut gallery laughing.

Thing is, you can curate more informed commentary yourself manually. The best coverage of the recent MENA activity is in places like arabist.net, aqoul.com, turcopolier.typepad.com, and on twitter (notably @arabist again - and I have Arab friends who retweet other interesting sources).
blackworx 22nd March 2011, 10:25 Quote
"forced to go back to the drawing board and work out how it can actually make money from its social media machine."

I'd say they're doing that fairly well already. Facebook is now in a situation where they are going to have to go public quite soon purely because to remain private with so much cash swilling around causes them a giant punitive regulatory headache. They are the largest image-based advertiser on the internet, and the mighty Google is so worried about Facebook taking away its revenue that it is desparately trying to create a social offering of its own that people will actually want to use, whilst at the same time having a tit for tat war over users' ability to transfer contacts and the like between their services (e.g. Gmail) and Facebook, and vice versa - the point being that both companies rightly consider contact network information to be valuable data.

I agree that the main stream media reaction has been abominable, but then its reaction to most things is abominable. Take the recent Chicken Little display it put on over the Fukushima situation - utterly, utterly shameful.

Facebook does however have a case to answer. When you have a company whose founder is on record as having said that privacy is no longer the social norm, you HAVE to mistrust that company when it comes to guarding your privacy. And it does have a responsibility to guard that privacy, regardless of any po-faced point you may make about "well, if you didn't give them it in the first place then they wouldn't be able to share it".

The question is not really one of not being stupid enough to upload information you'd prefer to keep private, it's one of informed consent and making sure Facebook doesn't do anything to get information YOU'D rather not let it have (e.g. your phone number) from someone else who isn't so hot on their own privacy.

You state that Facebook is "free" (and then confusingly go on to imply that people shouldn't expect something for nothing) but Facebook is not free - as you state yourself in a round about manner it's a trade. It's in Facebook's interest to get the best deal possible it can out of that trade, and to do so it repeatedly and unashamedly pushes at the boundaries of what it wants to take from its users in return for its "free" service. It obfuscates privacy controls and takes heavy advantage of the fact that, superficially, Zuckerberg was right when he said that people don't care about privacy. I am referring of course to the stereotypical 13 year old clicking ok, ok, ok on privacy/information sharing prompts to get at whatever game/social app is the flavour of the day.

I'm a user of their service and therefore I'm in business with them. It would be idiotic of me to ever give them an easy ride and I'm certainly not worried about poor little Facebook being bashed by these big nasty privacy activists.
urobulos 22nd March 2011, 10:42 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by barrkel
Also, I find the idea by some of the above commenters that newspaper articles are quality completely laughable. There are a handful of good bits in some newspapers, but by and large journalists are decent writers - they even have decent spelling and grammar with the aid of some copy editors - but the actual truth and veracity of what they write is highly suspect. The reason is that journalists are selected largely on the basis of how well they write copy, not how much they know about their beat. Most of what you find in the newspaper comes out of press releases and court and police reports, another chunk from vanity columns by people who've acquired enough fame to get an audience, along with a bunch of opinionated yet clueless blowhards who get the peanut gallery laughing.

Thing is, you can curate more informed commentary yourself manually. The best coverage of the recent MENA activity is in places like arabist.net, aqoul.com, turcopolier.typepad.com, and on twitter (notably @arabist again - and I have Arab friends who retweet other interesting sources).

To make it easier, I wrote "a web portal". In this case it was gazeta.pl, but it doesn't matter. I didn't want to use that example since most English speakers will not be familiar with it. I never said that all newspaper journalism is good quality. You're setting up a straw man here. The truth is there is no free online equivalent of the printed edition of the Economist. In the Polish market no website can provide content on the level of Polityka or Gazeta Wyborcza. For a British reader compare the quality of writing in the Guardian and on its website. Top quality newspaper journalism has no free equivalent on the internet. Can you see the difference? Anyone who brings up blogs and twitter as the best source of knowledge about the world loses all credit in my eyes. To each his own.

Monetisation of the internet was a minor part of the article, so I'll just stop here.
j_jay4 22nd March 2011, 11:46 Quote
I disagree, it comes across that you believe the consequences of your personal information being sold off by facebook ends there with facebook getting some money. It doesn't, facebook can be armed with all your contact details; email addresses, telephone numbers, websites. All these advertising streams can be flooded with spam if facebook sold that information, granted it might now be spam your interested in, it would be a bad thing. Yes there are ways to be secure online and improve your privacy, but without personal information being disclosed, facebook wouldn't exist. If facebook shared your information, people would stop sharing their information with facebook. A lot of my friends have this view and their facebook profiles are dull lifeless wastelands because they are afraid to share their current status, photos etc. If this was the case with the majority of my friends I would see no use in using the service. An email contact list would be much more efficient.

Bottom line: Facebook should protect it's users information so they keep using the service and so that Facebook can still earn billions from it's own advertising
Bloody_Pete 22nd March 2011, 11:58 Quote
The question effectively it, pay-per-view or ads???

Personally, ads don't affect me. We've put up with them on TV for years, atleast web based ones last 30 seconds or less, or a scattered around the edges of a page. If it allows me to view information for free, I'll live with it. I rarely look at them, and never click on any, they are just there, keeping my internet free.

Just look at Wikipedia, years without ads and last year had to beg for donations to keep going...

What annoys me more is the inability to delete all my data when I decide to stop using a service... It's like using AOL all over again...
Xir 22nd March 2011, 12:38 Quote
Quote:
I find it constantly amazing that people will be splashing around drunken photos of themselves on it one week, and then the next week will denounce Facebook for telling an advertiser they’ve listed fashion in their interests.
They reserve themselves the right to offer an advertiser your drunken photo's, and that's something else than telling them you might be interested in fashion.

Otherwise, yeah, you can always opt out, not be on facebook, not network, and be hugely unsuccessfull.
Works for me :D
Snips 22nd March 2011, 13:24 Quote
The potential values calculated by financial institutions for both Facebook and Twitter have been purely based on their membership and potential advertising to said membership.

If you don't want to get hit by advertisers then just remove your real data for the fake details such as date of birth and religion. It will be interesting to know how many members were born on the 1st January and who are practising Jedi.
Icy EyeG 22nd March 2011, 13:31 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xir

Otherwise, yeah, you can always opt out, not be on facebook, not network, and be hugely unsuccessfull.
Works for me :D

I personally never understood why not being on facebook is linked to being hugely unsuccessfull (not that you're saying that).
My only problem with facebook (which I don't use) is the information that other people post about me (pictures, for example), that I can't control.
Other than that, if people don't agree with how facebook handles its user's data, than they should delete the account.
However, if people still feel the internet should really have a facebook-like service then make a difference by contributing to the Diaspora project in some way.

That being said, the wide majority of people don't care about privacy, until they are hurt by the lack of it. When this happens people blame anyone but themselves.
shigllgetcha 22nd March 2011, 14:29 Quote
Quote:
will be splashing around drunken photos of themselves on it one week, and then the next week

I think you meant once a week
BlackRaven 22nd March 2011, 15:08 Quote
Well I personally like posting on facebook just to let people know im in the crapper.
Snips 22nd March 2011, 15:40 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by BlackRaven
Well I personally like posting on facebook just to let people know im in the crapper.

Well I would like to like you personally liking your posts on facebook just to let people know you're in the crapper.
beckoner 22nd March 2011, 16:40 Quote
If you think that advertising doesn't affect you or your shopping habits, think (while hoovering), and take a cool drink from your thermos then use Tipp-Ex and Sellotape to correct your post. Advertising has created hundreds of words in English (both US and UK) that affect our purchasing
liratheal 22nd March 2011, 16:45 Quote
...Hahaha. Internet privacy. Hahaha.

Most of us aren't interesting enough for it to matter, and those of us that are, well. Sucks to be you lot!
Waynio 22nd March 2011, 17:42 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by liratheal
...Hahaha. Internet privacy. Hahaha.

Most of us aren't interesting enough for it to matter, and those of us that are, well. Sucks to be you lot!

:) Just avoid going online ****faced or unstable & you'll be less likely to make an ass out of yourself ;) same goes for life in general.

I've had a moment or 2 where I've been a tad unstable & now I know to just go & excercise until I'm totally knackered, get some food watch something fun then sleep & wake up fresh as a daisy & carry on, it works :D.

But about facebook I'm still very much on the fence about it & probably always will be.
Aragon Speed 22nd March 2011, 23:24 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by urobulos
Good article. I see no reason to get bombarded with useless ads, so if sometimes I have no choice except to watch an ad, I'd rather it was somehow aligned with my hobbies.
Use something like Ad-block plus in FF, no more ads to worry about anyway. ;)
Xir 23rd March 2011, 13:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Icy EyeG
I personally never understood why not being on facebook is linked to being hugely unsuccessfull (not that you're saying that).
My only problem with facebook (which I don't use) is the information that other people post about me (pictures, for example), that I can't control.

My assumption was based on (many) successfull people beeing successfull networkers, though this doesn't necessarily mean using facebook.
This is not the age of the lone inventor anymore.
I don't know anyone in my surrounding that's gone up the career ladder without some serious help from their network.

To you second point, yeah, that also freaks me out.
I cannot see a way to avoid this though.
The technology to recognise faces from pictures and link them to name exists.
Now there are picture's of me with my name on them on the Internet that are perfectly harmless (from my company, for instance, from the boyscouts, somewhere I suppose).
I suppose I'll be surprised someday.

Heck I've found pictures of my dad from the early seventies on the web, and he sure didn't put them up. :(
Cthippo 23rd March 2011, 23:46 Quote
I have to say ads bug the crap out of me, and the personalized ones are even worse. Case in point...

I'm looking at which kind of boat to build next and have hit Guillemot Kayaks site a fair bit recently. Now when I pull up Bit I sometimes get a Guillemot banner ad at the top of the screen. For someone who doesn't like ads period, this is particularly annoying. If anything, ads tend to put me off buying the product because I resent them shoving it in my face.

I don't have a Facebook or Twitter account because my ego is not so large as to think anyone cares what I did last weekend.

As for funding the web, I don't have an answer, but I know there is very little on here that I would be willing to pay for.
Material 24th March 2011, 11:45 Quote
tad2008 24th March 2011, 13:31 Quote
A good, well balanced and thought out post.

The internet as a whole is in the public domain, so any information out
there is open to be used how whoever wishes to use it. If people want to remain anonymous then they have that choice. If they wish to post their real names and personal information about them and then complain about how that information is shared then they should consider what they truly value as personal and private.

As far as advertisers and the like go, there does need to be an agreeable solution put in place that people can sign up for rather than simply be bombarded with irrelevant advertising or even just because an advertiser sells something you happen to like.
blackworx 25th March 2011, 11:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Material
And as if on cue Metro publish an alarmist Facebook article

Wouldn't say it's alarmist. They have a short, measured quote from Sophos and a short, measured reply from Facebook. What's alarmist about that?

Really depends on whether Facebook are doing their usual and setting the default to "share" without asking users. If they're not then I'd agree there's pretty much no story here; going on previous form though I wouldn't be surprised if that's exactly what they're doing.

No smoke without fire.
jimmyjj 26th March 2011, 22:17 Quote
Yes facebook struggle to provide a free service out of the goodness of their heart.

They provide this service free out of their spirit of humanity. Revenue streams are only in place to cover the costs of this non profit making charity.

We should feel bad about restricting their misuse of our personal information. They only do it to aid them in their philanthropic efforts to provide social networking for the masses.

Face book like Bit Tech is a commercial operation who like every business in the world has one over arching goal - to turn a profit. This is not a bad thing you understand - not at all, it is simply how our society is set up to work - a free market economy.

But don't try to tell me for one minute that these services are provided for our benefit and that revenue streams such as advertising are in place just to cover costs.

You offer a service. We pay for it and you profit from it. It is that simple.

Perhaps we do not pay directly from our wallets. What we do is give air time on our screens and in our homes to the adverts you put on your site. This generate revenue from advertisers. This revenue maximises profit for the shareholders of Dennis Publishing Limited. It is that simple.

Users of face book like users of bit-tech are paying customers and their private information should be treated with respect and protected by law.
leslie 26th March 2011, 23:15 Quote
I'm not sure about overseas, but in the US, more and more employers are doing background checks... Many just simply inputting your name into Google, others Facebook. Others go full bore with credit checks and more.

Many of these employers are not hiring over this and in some cases flat out firing people for what they have put online. Sometimes, it's not even their fault. All someone has to do is post a picture of you and link it back to your "safe" profile.



While you say "no one is that important" to that I counter, why are you important enough to warrant your own webpage?" My personal life may be boring, but no one else needs to see it either. Besides, I've had enough, crazy internet stalkers to last a lifetime.
adidan 27th March 2011, 09:57 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by arcticstoat
There appears to be a constant media buzz about how we’re all at terrible risk *snip*

I hope I’m not alone in my disdain for this alarmist and arguably ignorant view...
Since the advent of 24 hours News this is the approach taken on every subject, not just the internet, unfortunately.
AstralWanderer 28th March 2011, 23:43 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by arcticstoat
I hope I’m not alone in my disdain for this alarmist and arguably ignorant view of how the Internet works...
The problem for most people debating this is lack of knowledge - a lot of the data collection (and virtually all the subsequent processing) happens behind the scenes so there is little visibility, no choice and therefore no opt-out.

Facebook (and other social networking sites) likely deserve every piece of flack for the way they operate (encouraging users to submit as much data as possible then making it impossible to restrict since it is the "Friend with the most permissive security settings" that effectively determines access) but user stupidity is a powerful factor also.

However I doubt many posters here will be aware that Omniture monitor Nvidia driver downloads and Nvidia forum posts (via web-bugs for nsomniture.nvidia.com) as well as posts in Electronic Arts' forums (via EA's Omniture javascript page which then triggers access to eaeacom.112.2o7.net). Omniture have also in the past had web bugs on American Express and Paypal webpages (the latter allowing Omniture to see the IDs of those making and receiving payments) and, for some reason, currently monitor TreeHugger (via discctreehugger.112.2o7.net).

However the Big Daddy of Internet Snooping is Google. As well as being able to keep track of searches made (by anyone allowing Google to set cookies on their system), Google has a partial view of almost everyone's online activities obtained by aggregating data from Doubleclick, GoogleAdServices and Google AdWords (those running ad filters will avoid this) and Google Analytics (a free service providing pretty graphs for webmasters, but allowing Google to track visitors to a significant portion of the World Wide Web).

And Google Analytics can also track online purchases. If you've bought anything from Scan, then Google will know, as will Yahoo Analytics since Scan use them both (and have used other tracking services previously).

Even blocking cookies by default doesn't completely block tracking for people on a static IP address (which most broadband users will be) since browser fingerprinting can be used instead - an anonymity network like Tor coupled with web/ad filtering would be needed to stop this.
zatanna 29th March 2011, 20:44 Quote
^haha, google IS big daddy and tru dat re: facebook. thanks for the savvy post.
AstralWanderer 3rd July 2011, 06:20 Quote
Just an update, to add some info relating to Bit-Tech itself. Bit-Tech webpages (for the website, not this forum) include beacons for ScoreCardResearch (b.scorecardresearch.com, aka ComScore) as do Dennis Publishing's other sites (listed at the bottom of the page for those curious).

ComScore is also used on other tech sites like Ars Technica and Slashdot, news sites like BusinessInsider and Digg as well as games sites like GameFAQs, EuroGamer and HookedGamers. A longer list of participating sites is given here but is a little dated.

ComScore provide an Opt Out page and Bit-Tech/Dennis should at least mention it on their privacy page (this currently links to YourOnlineChoices which provides opt-outs for 20 advertisers, but not ComScore - and *sigh* it uses Google Analytics...).
Dude111 4th July 2011, 23:06 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by arcticstoat
I’m starting to get frustrated by the way in which the debate about internet privacy is currently being waged.
Well dont be my friend,THE ARTICLE IS CORRECT!!

Its becoming quite hard to remain private (Especially users from the USA) and people dont even try to make it harder for them,they use S/W designed to spy on people like Chrome or facebook..... Those are just 2 things used to keep track of people,spy on them,etc.......

You CAN remain private but using OLDER SOFTWARE is the first big step in achieving this! (Software that came out BEFORE the intrusive phase started) -- Makes it harder for them... (And anything able to do that IS A PLUS!!!)
AstralWanderer 6th July 2011, 14:20 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dude111
You CAN remain private but using OLDER SOFTWARE is the first big step in achieving this! (Software that came out BEFORE thge intrusive phase started) -- Makes it harder for them... (And anything able to do that IS A PLUS!!!)
Hmm...while there is good sense in avoiding some new items (like mobiles running Android or Apple's iOS which track users' locations) I wouldn't recommend that as a general strategy since there are plenty of cases of product updates offering privacy (and security) improvements.

Instead I would suggest the following checklist:
  • Set up your web browser to block cookies by default (and avoid any browser not offering such an option). Only allow cookies for sites where you need to identify yourself (like forums or e-stores) and restrict these as much as possible (e.g. for this forum, allow cookies for the domain forums.bit-tech.net rather than just bit-tech.net). Check what cookies are being held periodically to ensure that your settings are working.
  • Some sites (like Amazon or eBay) offer a search function - consider clearing that site's cookie before using it since they can otherwise retain details of any searches and link them to your account (eBay have stated that they retain every detail of users' activities).
  • Use a web filter to disable active content (Java, Javascript, ActiveX, Flash) by default - only enabling them on sites you trust. Aside from reducing their abuse (Flash's local storage for example) this will also reduce the chance of you falling victim to a website compromise (many involve modifying a popular site to pull content from another location under the attacker's control - blocking active content by default will provide protection, even if a "trusted" site is affected).
  • Ad servers have been targeted by malware pushers in the past (examples here and here) - an ad filter can therefore provide security as well as privacy benefits.
  • Ensure the filters you use work on https: content - most don't (examples of filters that can handle https include Firefox extensions and Proxomitron, when configured with SSL DLLs).
  • Consider using an anonymity network like Tor or JAP - these can defeat browser fingerprinting (see above) and prevent your ISP from snooping on your online activity (as has happened with British Telecom and TalkTalk in the UK). There are downsides to such networks (slower speed, more complex setup, some sites will block access) but there are few other measures effective against ISP-level snooping.
AstralWanderer 2nd August 2011, 02:46 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by
New study released showing extent of web tracking and (ab)use of Flash cookies, HTML 5 storage and ETags here.

Quoting from that site:

Abstract:
In August 2009, we demonstrated that popular websites were using “Flash cookies” to track users. Some advertisers had adopted this technology because it allowed persistent tracking even where users had taken steps to avoid web profiling. We also demonstrated “respawning” on top sites with Flash technology. This allowed sites to reinstantiate HTTP cookies deleted by a user, making tracking more resistant to users’ privacy-seeking behaviors.

In this followup study, we reassess the Flash cookies landscape and examine a new tracking vector, HTML5 local storage and Cache-Cookies via ETags.

We found over 5,600 standard HTTP cookies on popular sites, over 4,900 were from third parties. Google-controlled cookies were present on 97 of the top 100 sites, including popular government websites. Seventeen sites were using HTML5, and seven of those sites had HTML5 local storage and HTTP cookies with matching values. Flash cookies were present on 37 of the top 100 sites.

We found two sites that were respawning cookies, including one site – hulu.com – where both Flash and cache cookies were employed to make identifiers more persistent. The cache cookie method used ETags, and is capable of unique tracking even where all cookies are blocked by the user and “Private Browsing Mode” is enabled.


More commentary at TheInquirer: Sneaky online tracking used by major websites is exposed
Dude111 13th September 2011, 07:59 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by AstralWanderer
[*]Set up your web browser to block cookies by default (and avoid any browser not offering such an option).
I have tested this before and i only have problems on a few sites,most i stay logged in regardless!!! (VBB sites will assign a session ID if they cant set a cookie (And its usually slightly faster loading i have noticed!!))
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