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Online Social Networks Leak Personal Information To Tracking Sites

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Author Topic: Online Social Networks Leak Personal Information To Tracking Sites  (Read 132 times)
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« on: August 26, 2009, 09:38:45 am »

Many Online Social Networks Leak Personal Information To Tracking Sites, New Study Shows

ScienceDaily (Aug. 25, 2009) More than a half billion people use online social networks, posting vast amounts of information about themselves to share with online friends and colleagues. A new study co-authored by a researcher at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has found that the practices of many popular social networking sites typically make that personal information available to companies that track Web users' browsing habits and allow them to link anonymous browsing habits to specific people.

The study, presented recently in Barcelona at the Workshop on Online Social Networks, part of the annual conference of the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Data Communications, is the first to describe a mechanism that tracking sites could use to directly link browsing habits to specific individuals.

"When you sign up with a social networking site, you are assigned a unique identifier," says Craig Wills, professor of computer science at WPI, who conducted the study with an industry colleague. "This is a string of numbers or characters that points to your profile. We found that when social networking sites pass information to tracking sites about your activities, they often include this unique identifier. So now a tracking site not only has a profile of your Web browsing activities, it can link that profile to the personal information you post on the social networking site. Now your browsing profile is not just of somebody, it is of you."

Like most commercial websites, online social networks use third-party tracking sites, called aggregators, to learn about the browsing habits of their visitors. Cookies are maintained by a Web browser and contain information that enable tracking sites to build profiles of the websites visited by a user. Each time the user visits a new website, the tracking site can review those cookies and serve up ads that might appeal to the user. For example, if the user frequently visits food sites, he or she might see an ad for a new cookbook.[/b]

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There is a simple way to get rid of tracking cookings after you have visited a social network.
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The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity, but the one that removes awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside. --Allan Bloom

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« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2009, 10:23:59 am »

Thanks.   Heck, even this swell VV site has little spies creepin round -- ainta coincidence ads match post content.  If it worries anyone, another thing to try for Firefox is TrackMeNot, a free cunning scheme to confuse the trackers.  Info at:

But of course, the more protection, the harder it is to move.  (Ever see the Beach Boys try to surf in a suit of armor?)  I wasn't able to post here until I sorted my cookies.  Chocolate chip, yes.  Bot-flavored, no.
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