Web Tracking is costing us dearly — our privacy

For years, many of us have been divulging personal information without realizing what we’ve been doing or its consequences.  Facebook has “struck gold” with its ability to get us to divulge almost everything about ourselves freely, and in real time.

The data which is being collected is primarily being used to get a better marketing idea of what we might be interested in purchasing.  If they know that we’ve been searching for a new truck, have “liked” someone with similar interests who might have similar purchasing habits and political views, they have some information that can help them target you with an advertisement you might “bite.”  For example, if you’re a woman they know right off the bat that you’re more likely to buy a Volvo than a man.  If you’re politically “liberal” you’re more likely to buy a Subaru.  Putting together hundreds of data points about you and your friends can give them a very good idea of what you might want to buy and when you’d be likely to want to buy it.  Kind of annoying, but not earth-shattering.  Enter the government.

Privacy concerns have been mounting as the government has been mining this wealth of personal data to help with everything from collecting taxes to investigating murders.  New research shows that as these tracking technologies advance, the opportunities for privacy invasion are rising.

“It is a mistake to consider (online) tracking benign,” cautions Sagi Leizerov, executive director of Ernst & Young‘s privacy services. “It’s both an opportunity for amazing connections of data, as well as a time bomb of revealing personal information you assume will be kept private.”

Mobile Apps Leaking Privacy

The entire privacy debate is now entering the world of mobile apps.  According to information from the Black Hat conference held this week in Las Vegas, Website security company Dasient analyzed 10,000 free mobile apps that enable gaming, financial services, entertainment and other services on Google Android smartphones. Researchers found more than 8%, or 842, of the Android apps took the unusual step of asking users’ permission to access the handset’s International Mobile Equipment Identity number, the unique code assigned to each cellphone. The IMEI was then employed as the user ID for the given app. In a number of instances, the app subsequently forwarded the user’s IMEI on to an online advertising network, says Neil Daswani , Dasient’s chief technology officer.

“The fact that an ad network is getting your IMEI means they can know how long you’ve used your phone and which mobile apps you use most often,” Daswani says. “The full implications of this aren’t clear, but with privacy you’ve got to be careful.”

How to limit Web tracking

Source: USA TODAY research

Delete cookies: SlimCleaner is a free tool that will automatically delete tracking cookies while preserving account logon cookies.Erase histories: Easy Eraser is paid software that periodically cleans sensitive information from your computer.

Lock down Facebook: uProtect.it is a free tool that can help block your Facebook activities from being accessed by ad networks.