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MIT Researchers Develop Technology To Share Internet Browsing History

March 10, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

MIT researchers have developed technology that allows people to share their browsing history — or just selected parts of it — with friends and the general public.

The new system, called Eyebrowse, gives researchers access to the same type of browsing data that big companies like Google and Facebook already collect.

“There’s global analytics,” said David Karger, an MIT professor of electrical engineering who has worked on the team project since 2010. “Google has this interesting 50,000-foot view of the Internet because they know all the clicks. Most people don’t.”

He added that there are interesting questions about social dynamics that this data could help to answer, as well.

“What are Democrats reading? You can’t answer that question right now,” Karger said in a statement. “There are things that the population as a whole would be interested in knowing, and also things that scholars would be interested in knowing.”

While it may sound like just one more way for people to lose some semblance of online privacy, the researcher said he hopes it actually will lead to more privacy.

“The trackers don’t give us a choice about what gets tracked,” he explained. “And I’d really like to demonstrate that giving people a choice has positive benefits. And maybe someday that will turn into legislation that says that people have the right to decide whether they get tracked or not, in certain circumstances. If people do buy into voluntary tracking, then maybe we don’t need involuntary tracking, and that would be pretty wonderful.”

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said he doesn’t have privacy concerns over the new system because users can opt-in to use it, or not.

The Eyebrowse system, which is not yet publicly available, is based on an extension built for Google’s Chrome browser. When the extension is installed, an icon, which looks like an eye, appears in the task bar and is either shown as an open eye when the tracker is on or a closed eye when it’s not.

Users can create a whitelist of sites that the system is allowed to track. And Eyebrowse can be turned off for private browsing.





Mozilla Working On Improving Stealth Mode For Firefox

August 18, 2015 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Mozilla has set a goal to make private browsing truly private.

The company is testing updates to private browsing in Firefox designed to block website elements that could be used by third parties to track browsing behavior across sites. Most major browsers, Firefox included, have a “Do Not Track” option, thoughmany companies do not honor it.

Mozilla’s experimental tool is designed to block outside parties like ad networks or analytics companies from tracking users through cookies and browser fingerprinting.

It’s available in the Firefox Developer Edition on Windows, Mac and Linux, and Firefox Aurora on Android, Mozilla said.

The tool is in pre-beta, although it might be incorporated into future versions of Firefox’s main browser.

The tool might cause some data-hungry websites to not load properly, Mozilla said. Users can unblock specific websites if they wish.

The enhancements also better identify unsafe browser add-ons that could install malware or collect user information.

“We’ve worked with developers and created a process that attempts to verify that add-ons installed in Firefox meet the guidelines and criteria we’ve developed to ensure they’re safer for you,” Mozilla said in a blog post.

Web tracking provides fuel to the lucrative business of targeted ads. A recent report showed that the usage of ad-blocking software is on the rise, costing publishers billions of dollars.

Other browser extensions designed to block tracking and targeted ads include Ghostery and AdBlock Plus.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, meanwhile, is trying to develop a new standard for the “Do Not Track” browser setting to make it more effective.






Is Microsoft Giving Up On ‘Do Not Track’?

April 7, 2015 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Microsoft is pulling back on its commitment to the fading “Do Not Track” (DNT) standard, saying that it would no longer automatically switch on the signal in its browsers.

“DNT will not be the default state in Windows Express Settings moving forward, but we will provide customers with clear information on how to turn this feature on in the browser settings should they wish to do so,” said Brendon Lynch, the firm’s chief privacy officer, in a blog post Friday.

“Windows Express” is Microsoft’s label for the setup process after first turning on a new PC or after the installation of an upgrade.

Do Not Track signals whether a user wants online advertisers and websites to track his or her movements, and was modeled after the Do Not Call list that telemarketers are supposed to abide by. All five major browsers — Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer (IE), Opera and Safari — can send a DNT request.

“This change will apply when customers set up a new PC for the first time, as well as when they upgrade from a previous version of Windows or Internet Explorer,” added Lynch.

His comments implied that when users of Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 upgrade to Windows 10 later this year, the DNT setting in IE11 and Project Spartan — the new browser that will be named the default — will be left as off.

Lynch cited new emphasis in the DNT standard for the change.

The standard’s latest draft states, “The basic principle is that a tracking preference expression is only transmitted when it reflects a deliberate choice by the user. In the absence of user choice, there is no tracking preference expressed.”

“We are updating our approach to DNT to eliminate any misunderstanding about whether our chosen implementation will comply with the W3C [World Wide Web Consortium] standard,” said Lynch.




Do Smartphones Reveal Personal Data?

March 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Mobile

It is impossible for anyone to be anonymous on the internet when your mobile phone reveals everything about in over about four phone calls.

According to Nature, an international team led by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that data derived from mobile phone networks, using just the location of radio masts, could identify the vast majority of people from just four pieces of information. While an anonymised dataset does not contain name, home address, phone number or other obvious identifier, if individual’s patterns are unique enough, outside information can be used to link the data back to an individual.

Looking at data collected over 15 months from 1.5 million people, the boffins worked out that human mobility traces are highly unique. This means that a list of potentially sensitive professional and personal information that could be inferred about an individual knowing only his mobility trace.

It is possible to work out the movements of a competitor sales force, attendance of a particular church or an individual’s presence in a motel or at an abortion clinic.



FTC Issues Wide Ranging Guidelines For Mobile Apps

February 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Mobile

The Federal Trade Commission has issued a wide-reaching set of new guidelines for makers of mobile platforms and developers of applications for cellular telephones and tablets to safeguard users’ privacy.

The non-binding guidelines, published in a report last Friday, include the recommendation that companies should obtain consumers’ consent before including location tracking in software and applications, consider developing icons to depict the transmission of user data, and consider offering a “Do Not Track” mechanism for smartphone users.

The report also recommended that application developers have an easily accessible privacy policy, obtain consent before collecting and sharing sensitive information and consider participating in self-regulatory programs.

The FTC has been heightening its scrutiny of mobile devices, which are now the primary source of communication and Internet access for many users.

Among the companies who may be impacted by the report are firms like Apple Inc., Inc. and Microsoft Corp.


FTC Rightfully Bars Epic Marketplace

December 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The FTC has barred online marketeer Epic Marketplace from rifling through web users’ history to serve targeted adverts.

Epic Marketplace would put adverts in front of web users that were tailored based on looking through their web history, known in the business as online behavioral advertising. Now the firm has admitted FTC claims that it used “history sniffing” and was illegally gathering data and has been barred from repeating its actions.

The FTC claimed that the firm’s software, which was used on more than 54,000 web domains, would track user behavior outside the websites that belonged to Epic Marketplace’s advertising clients, contrary to claims made in the firm’s privacy policy.

FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said, “Consumers searching the Internet shouldn’t have to worry about whether someone is going to go sniffing through the sensitive, personal details of their browsing history without their knowledge. This type of unscrupulous behavior undermines consumers’ confidence, and we won’t tolerate it.”

As part of Epic Marketplace’s settlement with the FTC, the firm must delete all data it had collected through its operations. The firm has been barred from misrepresenting the privacy or confidentiality of any data it has on a particular user.



European Do Not Track Supporters Make Demands

October 12, 2012 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Supporters of the Do Not Track standard have warned its detractors that they won’t stand for any nonsense, and have given backers an encouraging nudge in the direction of fair implementation.

In Europe, Neelie Kroes, the VP of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, has just given a speech in which she cautioned the industry against ignoring Do Not Track, messing around with its standards or abusing the cookie system.

Speaking at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels she said, “Standardisation work is not going according to plan. In fact, I am increasingly concerned. About the delay, and about the turn taken by the discussions hosted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). I think that won’t come as a surprise to you. And I know that my colleagues across the Atlantic, at the Federal Trade Commission, feel the same.”

So what is the problem? According to Kroes the problem is a watering down of the standard, and she repeated her earlier calls for firm rules that actually protect the individual.

“For the avoidance of doubt, I will say it again today: the DNT standard must be rich and meaningful enough to make a difference, when it comes to protecting people’s privacy,” she said.

“It should build on the principle of informed consent, giving people control over their information. And, indeed, it must be designed to let people choose to not be tracked. The clue is in the name: do NOT track.”

European Minister though she might be, Kroes also aimed her warning at those American companies that ultimately could make or break the standard. She’s looking at the internet giants, and their implementation of the rules when she says that European regulators won’t stand for any nonsense.

“I mean everyone,” she said. “Including American companies. Because if you want to track Europeans, you have to play by our rules. Our new data protection framework is crystal-clear on that point.Including online businesses. In the long term, the online economy won’t grow if it acts against the grain, against the wishes of ordinary users, against their need for trust. And under such conditions, nor can online services prosper.”

Over the pond Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus co-chairs Joe Barton and Edward Markey expressed their disappointment at statements from the Digital Advertising Alliance that call for avoidance of the standard and ignoring of its guidance.

“Privacy is an issue that affects everyone, and the Digital Advertising Alliance’s announcement made clear that it puts profits over privacy. If consumers want to be tracked online, they should have to opt-in to be tracked, instead of the other way around,” they said.

“This is why we are disappointed to hear the Digital Advertising Alliance insist that it will not honor Microsoft’s “Do Not Track” default and will not penalise companies that ignore it.”

The Digital Advertising Alliance is a self regulatory group for online behavioural advertisers.


Twitter Announces Support Of ‘Do Not Track’ Feature

May 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter announced its support for “Do Not Track,” immediately implementing it to stop online tracking of users who trigger a setting in their browsers.

The announcement was made by an official with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) during a Do Not Track (DNT) event hosted by Mozilla, the maker of Firefox. Mozilla has been a major champion of the technology.

Twitter itself kept a low profile, saying only, “We applaud the FTC’s leadership on DNT,” Twitter tweeted from its own corporate account on Thursday.

“Twitter seems to be the one social network that’s doing the right thing [on privacy], said Brian Blau, a Gartner research director who specializes in consumer technology. “They’ve gone out of their way, compared to competitors, to stand up for users’ rights.”

Do Not Track relies on information in the HTTP header, part of the requests and responses sent and received by a browser as it communicates with a website, to signal that the user does not want to be tracked by online advertisers and sites. If a website or service abides by Do Not Track, it must stop tracking users’ movements, usually by discarding a Web cookie that handled the chore.

Twitter did exactly that, according to Jonathan Mayer, one of the two Stanford University researchers who came up with the HTTP header standard.

Twitter is the first social service to support Do Not Track, the initiative that was first endorsed by the FTC in late 2010.


Yahoo To Introduce ‘Do-Not-Track’ Worldwide This Year

March 29, 2012 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Yahoo websites worldwide will comply with users “do not track” settings starting later this year, Yahoo announced Wednesday.

Most major browsers are now able to send a message to sites visited, indicating whether users want their surfing behavior to be tracked by cookies for the purposes of displaying personalized ads. In February the last major hold-out, Google, announced that its Chrome browser will include do-not-track support by the end of the year.

That message, an HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) header accompanying a request to display a Web page, avoids the awkward paradox that to store a visitor’s preference not to be tracked by cookies, sites had to store a cookie containing that preference, and provides a consistent way to store and indicate such preferences across all Web sites that respect the do-not-track header.

Support for the do-not-track header has been in the works since last year, Yahoo said. All Yahoo sites will respect the header, including those of Right Media and Interclick, two Yahoo subsidiaries specializing in behavioral or data-driven advertising, the company said.

The company’s announcement comes the same day that the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade is set to hold a hearing on balancing privacy and innovation, and in the same week that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission called for creation of a do-not-track tool for Internet users.

In a statement announcing its plans for allowing visitors to opt out of tracking, Yahoo maintained that allowing advertisers to regulate themselves was the best and quickest way to introduce protections to the market place without sacrificing innovation or value creation.

Yahoo said its do-not-track system meets the recommendations of the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), an industry body uniting many advertisers and online advertising networks.

Such self-regulatory programs, though, have been criticized for leading to opt-out systems that favor advertisers and are too difficult for ordinary consumers to use.

Yahoo is one of the first household names to announce its commitment to honoring the do-not-track header, according to a list of companies having announced such commitments maintained by researchers at Stanford University.


FTC Pushing For ‘Do-Not-Track’ Online System

March 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Around The Net

U.S. regulators are pressuring Internet companies to implement by the end of the year a “Do Not Track” system that would allow consumers to exercise more control over their personal data online, in a report released on Monday that privacy advocates dismissed as too soft.

The Federal Trade Commission’s long-awaited 57-page final report on privacy recommendations relies heavily on industry voluntarily adopting best practices.

It also called on Congress to pass broad privacy legislation that would allow consumers to see how their online data is collected, used and sold, and give consumers the ability to stop such practices.

The report is in response to growing consumer concern about how Internet giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter collect and trade in vast amounts of detailed information about their users’ online activities and real-life identities.

The FTC has a very limited ability to write rules, and is instead leaning on Internet companies to adopt tougher internal privacy policies. The FTC does have the power to punish companies that violate their own policies or otherwise engage in deceptive practices.

In one of its top “action items,” the FTC urged Internet companies to follow through on pledges to implement a Do Not Track system that would let consumers click a button on their Internet browsers to ensure their data is not being collected.

The FTC’s report also targeted online data brokers who buy, compile, and sell personal information about consumers. It said there should be legislation that would provide consumers with access to information held by data brokers.

Further, the FTC said data brokers should explore a centralized website where consumers could get information about their practices and their options for controlling data use.

Joel Reidenberg, an Internet privacy expert who teaches at Fordham University School of Law, said that the FTC report was significant even though the FTC’s power to issue regulations on privacy is limited.


Google Plans To Update Its Privacy Policy

January 25, 2012 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Google has come up with a plan to merge its users’ accounts across its whole portfolio.

Updates to privacy policies should always be treated with caution as they tend not to be to the benefit of users. This plan hatched by Google has already gathered opponents.

At Google though, it’s all good, and according to the firm it is an early Spring cleaning that will sort out what has become a complex of overlapping privacy policies.

“Despite trimming our policies in 2010, we still have more than 70 (yes, you read right … 70) privacy documents covering all of our different products. This approach is somewhat complicated. It’s also at odds with our efforts to integrate our different products more closely so that we can create a beautifully simple, intuitive user experience across Google,” said Alma Whitten, director of Privacy, Product and Engineering at Google.

“So we’re rolling out a new main privacy policy that covers the majority of our products and explains what information we collect, and how we use it, in a much more readable way. While we’ve had to keep a handful of separate privacy notices for legal and other reasons, we’re consolidating more than 60 into our main Privacy Policy.”

The change should appease regulators, added Whitten, as they have been calling for “shorter, simpler privacy policies”. The main change is that when users sign in to one Google property they will be signed in across all of them,

“In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience,” said Whitten. “People still have to do way too much heavy lifting, and we want to do a better job of helping them out.”

It’s a flowery announcement and one that does not sound too chilling. Google promises that it will not sell its users personal information and will not share it without their permission unless told to do so by a court order. However, it might not be taken lightly by all parties.

“@Google’s Privacy Policy: Your data are belong to us,” tweeted the Anonymous-related @Anon_Central account in response. “Dear @google, I do not accept your change of policy and as such I expect a full refund for my Android phone,” added Privacy advocate Alexander Hanff.

Google has already been chided recently over its decision to make its searches more personal. When it announced that the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) suggested that it might be of interest to competition regulators, while Twitter was also a vocal opponent.


California Advances ‘Do Not Track’ Internet Legislation

May 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Around The Net

California is a moving closer to making  into law the first Do Not Track legislation in the U.S., aimed at protecting Internet users from invasive advertising.

The proposed Senate bill, SB-761, passed a Senate Judiciary Committee vote late Tuesday, but it still has a long road ahead before having a chance of being signed into law. It now moves on to the Appropriations Committee, and must also pass the Senate and State Assembly before being sent to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

Still, it’s the first time such a bill has made it out of committee, and that’s a big deal, according to John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. “This is the first time that a ‘do not track’ bill has actually had a hearing and been debated and then voted forward in the legislative process,” he said.

The bill would give California consumers a simple way of opting out of data collection systems that keep track of their online activities. “It puts up a no trespassing sign on our device,” Simpson said.

Opponents of the bill, including Google, the Direct Marketing Association, and the wireless industry group CTIA, say it puts an unnecessary burden on online commerce.

Online marketers love this type of data because it helps them fashion highly effective targeted advertising. But many consumers don’t want to hand marketers every detail of what they do on the Web.

Under the proposed law, users would have a way — possibly a through a browser setting — of telling Web sites not to track them. If a company disregarded this and collected data without permission, it could face stiff fines.

Even though several browsers offer a way ask Web sites to stop behavioral tracking, there is nothing that forces the Web sites to comply.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation supports the concept of Do Not Track legislation, but Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien said the proposed California legislation is unnecessarily complicated and may not actually do what it intends. “We’re not incredibly fond of the language in the current bill, which is why we think it needs amendments,” he said.

Still, Tien said that an amended Do Not Track law has a better chance of getting passed in California than at the federal level.

FTC Singles Out Google’s Chrome Over Do Not Track

April 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Liebowitz this week singled out Google for not adopting “Do Not Track,” the privacy feature that allows consumers the ability to opt out of online tracking by Web sites and marketing entities.

In an interview Monday with Politico, Liebowitz called out Google for not supporting Do Not Track in its Chrome browser.

Noting that Do Not Track had gathered momentum, Liebowitz said, “Apple just announced they’re going to put it in their Safari browser. So that gives you Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla. Really the only holdout — the only company that hasn’t evolved as much as we would like on this — is Google.”

Do Not Track has been promoted by the FTC and by privacy advocates including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), as the best way to help consumers protect their privacy.

The technology requires sites and advertisers to recognize incoming requests from browsers as an opt-out demand by the user. The information is transmitted as part of the HTTP header.

As Liebowitz said, Microsoft and Mozilla have added Do Not Track header support to their Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) and Firefox 4 browsers. While Apple hasn’t confirmed that the next version of Safari will include Do Not Track, developers have reported finding the feature in early editions bundled with Mac OS X 10.7, aka “Lion,” the upgrade slated to ship this summer.

That leaves Google’s Chrome and Opera’s browser on the outside. But neither plans to implement Do Not Track anytime soon.

Chrome has its own ideas about privacy, and also won’t commit to Do Not Track.

“We continue to offer the Keep My Opt-Outs plug-in for Chrome … which already works to permanently opt users out of most ad profiling,” a Google spokesman said in an email reply to questions.

Google declined to comment on whether it is considering adding Do Not Track header support to Chrome, but seemingly left the door ajar. “We’re encouraged that the standards bodies are working on these different header approaches, and will continue to be involved closely,” the spokesman said.

Mozilla’s Firefox To Offer ‘Opt-Out’ Privacy Feature

January 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Mozilla, the developer behind theFirefox browser, is creating a feature that will allow its users to opt-out of online behavioral advertising. The goal is to give users “a deeper understanding of and control over personal information online,” Mozilla’s head of privacy stated in a blog posted on their site Sunday.

The feature will allow users to configure their Firefox browser to tell websites and advertisers that they would like to opt-out of any advertising based on their behavior, Alex Fowler wrote in his blog post. The user’s preference is communicated to websites and third party ad servers using a new “Do Not Track HTTP header”, which is sent with every click or page view in Firefox.

The feature wouldn’t block advertising entirely, only personalized ads. If the user has enabled the feature, the advertiser would have to exchange the personalized ad for a standard ad, according to a diagram included in the blog post.

Mozilla believes the header-based approach will be better for the Web in the long run, compared to cookies or blacklists. Using a header is less complex, more persistent than cookie-based solutions and at the same time simple to locate and use. It doesn’t rely on a user’s finding and loading lists of ad networks and advertisers to work, Fowler wrote.

However, rolling out the feature will be a challenge. For it to work, both browsers and sites will have to implement it. To get past this issue, Mozilla wants to work with the technical community to standardize the header across the industry, according to Fowler. It is also proposing that the feature be considered for upcoming releases of Firefox.

Mozilla’s announcement comes just weeks after the  U.S. government’s call to improve online privacy. In December, the U.S. Department of Commerce recommended the creation of an online privacy bill of rights and an enforceable code of conduct for Internet firms handling consumer data and tracking Web users.