Friday, May 28, 2010

Tracking of Internet Browser Activity

Web surfing creates a unique fingerprint on browsers that can be traced to nearly 84 percent of users, according to research from the Electronic Frontier Foundation released Monday.

The EFF reached its conclusion via its Panopticlick experiment site which has sampled nearly a million user fingerprints to date since Jan. 27th, 2010. Participants simply click on a red dot and are given a uniqueness score based on the amount of information their browser shares with other sites. A statistical and mathematical breakdown is provided for the empirically driven crowd.

While certain variables may cause unique fingerprints to change or become unstable over time, the EFF determined that in general, user identification remains "overwhelmingly trackable," creating serious "implications both for privacy policy and technical design."

The advocacy group suggests policymakers realize the importance of browser uniqueness and determine limits for the association of online identities to sensitive data. How soon or how serious policymakers take this recommendation remains to be seen. However, the site does make the dangers of Internet tracking tangible and even, fun to learn about.

The EFF also provides tips on its experimental site for users to protect themselves and lessen the chances of involuntarily giving away personal information.

Although the science and technical jargon of the experiment may be much for the average Web user to fully comprehend, the conclusion is not -- following someone and knowing everything about their online habits is rapidly becoming easier for companies as well as anyone interested.

In fact, Google and Facebook are in the news again for releasing usernames and other personal information collected from users to advertisers. Google's Street View cars, which made headlines last week after the company admitted the fleet inadvertently picked up data, also admitted accidentally recording people's Internet activity. Short blurbs worth, but still another method of tracking a browser history and more fodder for political battles over privacy both in America and overseas.

Experienced Internet Attorneys can provide counsel to individuals as well as companies regarding consumer internet privacy issues.

Authored by Taren Fujimoto.

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