Warning issued for online tracking tools

The ability to deliver targeted advertising to customers is one of the great advantages of the Internet. What organization doesn’t want to make sure its message gets out to the best buyers?

But a new paper from researchers at Belgium and American universities suggests the new browser cookie tools used for tracking raises privacy risks that CSOs need to consider before continuing to recommend them to C-level executives.

As outlined by ComputerWorld U.S., Pro Publica and other news sites, the report concludes that canvas fingerprinting, evercookies and cookie syncing are increasingly being used by Web sites to help deliver targeted ads. However, they also gather a tremendous amount of information. One technique, cookie syncing, could increase privacy breaches if companies merge databases containing the browsing histories of users.

The other problem is the tracking tools are hard for end users to block. That’s good for companies that use them, but could end up damaging the organization’s reputation if there’s a privacy breach. It’s a sensitive issue because knowledgeable Internet users believe they have the right — and the power — to delete cookies to ensure their privacy is protected.

Read the research paper here

Our evaluation of the defensive techniques used by privacy-aware users finds that there exist subtle pitfalls — such as failing to clear state on multiple browsers at once
— in which a single lapse in judgement can shatter privacy defenses,” the authors write. “This suggests that even sophisticated users face great difficulties in evading tracking techniques.”

“In the long run,” they conclude, “a viable approach to online privacy must go beyond add-ons and browser extensions. These technical efforts can be buttressed by regulatory oversight. In addition, privacy-friendly browser vendors who have hitherto attempted to take a neutral stance should consider integrating defences more deeply into the browser.”


Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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