Editorial: Tracking your online ‘followers’

By The Herald Editorial Board

It bears repeating, so we will: Wherever you go online, you are being tracked. This isn’t new, but the ubiquity of the tracking has hit new heights. Along with those ads that follow you around. A study that looked at web tracking over the last 20 years found that at least 75 percent of the world’s 500 most popular websites contain web trackers, up from fewer than 5 percent in 1998, USA Today reported.

“The number of trackers have increased, the ability of the top trackers to track you across sites has increased and the complexity of the trackers has increased,” said Adam Lerner, a security and privacy researcher at the University of Washington and one of the study designers.

Technology experts emphasize that it is not just individual companies that track you, but “third-party” trackers, which sell your information to other companies.

“It’s important to remember that those four brokers are then selling that data to others, so it’s much broader,” said Ali Lange, a policy analyst with the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington D.C.

Using “cookies” and other technologies, the third party trackers are able to build “browsing profiles” of users that is quite specific, USA Today reported. It will compile what sites a user visits, determine where they live, what ads they’ve looked at, and where they’ve purchased something, among other things.

They don’t really need your name when they can drill down to your interests without it, and send ads to follow you around. Some sites, however, like the Humane Society, will send mail to your home after you visit its website; so some sites are definitely getting your name, which really wouldn’t be hard to do, given all the ways one is followed online.

“Obviously they have legitimate purposes, but they also have privacy implications,” said Franziska Roesner, professor of computer science at UW and an author on the paper, which was presented last week at a computer conference in Austin, Texas.

Half of the top 500 websites they looked at contained at least four of the third-party trackers, the researchers found. The average top website has an average of at least four third-party trackers looking at user activity, Science Daily reported. The UW research team stresses that these numbers are likely underestimates, since not all websites are fully archived.

Meanwhile, a Princeton study found that in addition to all the cookies and beacons and digital fingerprints we now leave behind us, there’s another one loudly announcing your presence — but you can’t hear it. (The sound comes from the electrons that make up your computer.) It’s called an audio fingerprint, and it’s a “niche” tracking tactic, Consumerist reports, so it’s not widespread. On the other hand, if it’s being used, most people wouldn’t know a thing about it.

And on and on it goes. Once you’re savvy to one tracking trick, another pops up. Perhaps one day, an individual’s online rights will at least be equal to those forever trying to sell you something.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Sunday, April 18

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Ian Terry / The Herald

Westbound cars merge from Highway 204 and 20th Street Southeast onto the trestle during the morning commute on Thursday, March 30 in Lake Stevens.

Photo taken on 03302017
Editorial: Lawmakers must keep at transportation’s grand deal

The complex mix of bills can accomplish too much to surrender to opposition to taxes and costs.

In this image from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and defendant, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, right, listen, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides over motions in the trial of Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd.  (Court TV, via AP, Pool)
Viewpoints: Chauvin trial centers around three questions

Jurors will consider the differences between force and violence and being subject to the law or above it.

Comment: State’s drug abuse reforms should include prevention

Lives and money can be saved if efforts build on existing work to prevent drug abuse and addiction.

Comment: Lawmakers can start restoring equity to state taxes

Lower-income families pay a greater share of taxes than wealthier families. That needs to change.

Thanks to those who found truth of 1987 arson at EvCC

Thanks to The Daily Herald for the March 26 article, “Arsoninst behind… Continue reading

We should add clean energy and keep Snake River dams

Regarding the plan to remove the four Snake River hydroelectric dams as… Continue reading

This Aug. 23, 2020 photo shows a long line of unsold 2020 models charge outside a Tesla dealership in Littleton, Colo.  The European Union is lacking sufficient charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, according to the bloc's external auditor. In a report published Tuesday, April 13, 2021, the European Court of Auditors said users are gaining more harmonized access to charging networks but the EU is still “a long way from reaching its Green Deal target of 1 million charging points by 2025." (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Editorial: Bills’ merger makes clean-driving future possible

Combining two bills will aid the sales of electric vehicles and ensure ample charging stations.

FILE - In this undated photo, provided by NY Governor's Press Office on Saturday March 27, 2021, is the new "Excelsior Pass" app, a digital pass that people can download to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Vaccine passports being developed to verify COVID-19 immunization status and allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine have become the latest flash point in America’s perpetual political wars, with Republicans portraying them as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices. (NY Governor's Press Office via AP, File)
Editorial: Vaccine passports can nudge more toward immunity

Used to persuade rather than exclude, the passports could increase access to businesses and venues.

Most Read