“It’s very clear that when a company like facebook becomes the host of the digital public sphere, you have put a lot of power in the hands of a central actor.” – Ethan Zuckerman
S01E02 : Breaking Ad
Accepting cookies is a part of our digital life.
If we said no, would the Internet still work? Let’s trace the economic origins of online tracking.
Ghosts is a simple game with an important message.
It allows web-users to see how their personal information and online activity is being collected and used by trackers on any webpage.
In Ghosts, trackers appear as little ghosts which users can chase and defeat, while exploring the hidden depth of the web.
Have you had enough of this message that has been popping up all over the Internet these past few months? As we all know, the easiest thing to do is click “OK” and you’re rid of it.
But if you should ever get it in your head to say “No”, just one click won’t do it – you need a whole tutorial.
First option: block cookies in your browser
Every Internet browser allows you to block third-party cookies – those files that follow you around on the Internet from site to site.
- Firefox: Settings -> Privacy tab -> Rules for setting conservation -> Use custom settings for history.
- Internet Explorer: Tools -> Internet Options -> Privacy tab -> Settings -> Move cursor up -> click OK.
- Chrome: Settings menu -> Show Advanced Settings -> click Content Settings -> then select the “Block third-party cookies and site data” tick box -> click OK.
- Safari: Settings -> Safari -> Block cookies -> Always block.
Second option: Use an add-on
Following episode 1, we were given a list of tools to track or block certain trackers, including cookies.
Disconnect, for example, is a small extension that displays the cookies used by the site to which you are navigating on the browser bar at all times.
Third option: Use the ShareMeNot add-on
The first two methods make it possible to bypass cookies from advertisers; however, social networks also aim their radar at our browsers (you will learn more about that in episode 3 of Do Not Track). To remove these, you must use the ShareMeNotextension, which blocks social network buttons and prevents you from being stalked by Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Note that the new PrivacyBadger extension combines the functionality of Disconnect and ShareMeNot.
You can also test all of your favourite websites with Cookiepedia, to see the type and number of cookies that are placed on users’ machines (only available in English). That is what we’ll be doing in episode 2.
“Just don’t go on the Internet”
But to be fully protected from tracking is not easy. The advertising industry is working on new ways to continue online profiling despite the predicted decline in cookies. As the head of an advertising agency confided in a moment of candour in a Forbes article: “If you don’t want anyone to know what you do on the Internet, just don’t go on the Internet.”.
The cookies on which the warning messages on our browsers focus are already technologically obsolete.
Fingerprinting identifies each computer that browses a site according to its configuration (software installed, owned fonts, clock settings etc.). The website Am I Unique ? gauges the accuracy of this tool, which can distinguish between different computers connected to the network almost without fail. Am I unique on the Internet? Yes, indeed! PrivacyBadger has reported working on a method to block fingerprinting.
Trackers are always one step ahead
The latest invention is zombie cookies, which rise up from their own ashes after having been deleted by users. Turn, an American advertising agency, managed to develop a system that identifies users to Verizon, an Internet access provider, even if they block or delete cookies. Faced with the outcry over revelations by Julia Angwin (interviewed in Do Not Track) on these practices, Turn had to give up and kill its zombie cookies for good.
But the science of tracking continues to develop. A bit like the new substances that are undetectable by anti-doping tests, trackers are always one step ahead of the activists who are developing the tools to escape them. Tracking the trackers – it’s an endurance sport.
Microsoft has reversed its position on the contentious Do Not Track (DNT) browser feature, saying Internet Explorer will no longer send DNT signals to websites by default.
“Put simply, we are updating our approach to DNT to eliminate any misunderstanding about whether our chosen implementation will comply with the W3C standard,” Microsoft chief privacy officer Brendon Lynch said in a Friday blog post.
Belgium’s data protection body has accused the social network of using plug-ins and cookies to follow users who have deleted their profile or never signed up for an account.That means the social media giant is breaching European law requiring users to choose whether to have tracking cookies placed on their device or not.
As you surf the Web, information is being collected about you. Web tracking is not 100% evil — personal data can make your browsing more efficient; cookies can help your favorite websites stay in business. But, says Gary Kovacs, it’s your right to know what data is being collected about you. He unveils a Firefox add-on, Collusion, to do just that. (Update: Collusion is now called Lightbeam.)
Ashkan Soltani, a well-respected expert on consumer privacy, recently commented that perhaps online do not track efforts should be replaced by the goal of do not surprise. Transparency is critical, but new tracking methods are rarely disclosed in privacy notices and consumers have limited ability to control or prevent their use.
The last time we wrote about the browser technology known as Do Not Track – over four years ago! – the online privacy space was much simpler. The hope was that DNT, once it was ‘baked in’ to every major browser, would enable internet users to turn off invasive tracking quickly and easily.
But that hasn’t happened. Why not?