November 12, 2012

The Internet Knows Who You Are & Where You’ve Been with More Online Tracking than Ever

It would seem like good times for online privacy advocates these days, what with Microsoft’s (News Alert) “Do Not Track” catching on and plenty of other browsers following suit. But between political campaigning and online holiday shopping catching a fever pitch, the overall level of online tracking has never been higher, as discovered by the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology’s Web Privacy Census report.

According to the Berkeley report, which was based on the results from analysis technology from the Abine DoNotTrackPlus tool, the use of third-party cookies geared exclusively toward tracking users on the 100 most popular websites online increased fully 11 percent over the May 2012 – October 2012 corridor. At that rate, tracking will have doubled in just two and a half years.

Moreover, the tracking that’s coming out is getting more sophisticated than ever before. Where before, Flash cookies ruled the day, the growing use of devices running iOS meant that some improvements needed to be made. That in turn led to the rise of HTML5 local storage use for tracking cookies, which represents a major jump in the sheer level of sophistication involved.

Perhaps worst of all is the lack of notification about the use of these tracking cookies. In many cases, just visiting the homepage of a popular website is enough to rate a tracking cookie installation, without so much as a privacy policy or similar disclosure taking place. Users could be carrying around thousands of tracking cookies and all without ever knowing that they had even just one installed.

While the gain of the anti-tracking sector is quite clear–even Google (News Alert) recently tacked on Do Not Track to its own Chrome browser–it’s clear that tracking will do just as much to fight back. Moreover, Google expressed doubt in the Do Not Track concept’s ability to fend off tracking, since most that actually use tracking software in the first place use it, and need to do so, for a variety of reasons, most of which are directly related to the survival of the business in question.

People want privacy when they surf the Web, and businesses want the ability to track what their users do. As long as these two points remain at loggerheads, there likely won’t be a lot in the way of resolution on this point.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey


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