In today’s world, each of us faces ongoing attacks on our privacy by politically connected corporations, criminals, and government snoops.
Although the current version of the “supercookie” has been around for at least a few years, it has recently gotten a bit more press because both MSN.com and Hulu.com have been outed by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley for secretly installing this small tracking software on visitors’ web browsers.
The Vanguard of Worldwide Internet Surveillance?
In simple terms, when you surf the Internet your web browser’s (Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari) default setting is to record your “history.” This is a convenience for you because it allows you to look for and find a web page you have visited a few days (or months) ago and return to it. But this convenience comes at a price – your privacy.
The university researchers found both MSN.com and Hulu.com websites were installing “history stealing” supercookies. Supercookies are more invasive than regular cookies and more difficult for an individual to remove on his or her own. Also, supercookies persist and stay embedded on your computer, even after regular cookies have been deleted.
The MSN and Hulu supercookies tracked a person’s browsing history. In other words, once secretly installed, the program rifled through and analyzed the browser’s history. It then communicated what it found to the tracking company. Then the tracking company creates a dossier about the user’s online habits, and sells the pilfered information to marketing and advertising firms to better target ads at the user.
The Wall Street Journal gave the following example: if you visited health, pregnancy, or child-rearing-related web pages, you would soon notice many pregnancy related advertisements while you were online. Even more troubling, this dossier would also contain bankruptcy sites, gambling sites, or any other page found in the web browser’s history.
This Invasion of Privacy is “Legal”
Quite simply, legal protections for your privacy rights have not kept pace with the advance of technology. Legal doesn’t make it right, especially when supercookies are installed without your consent or knowledge and the information can be used, traded, or sold to anyone with positive or negative motives! We want to share with you a good line of defense…
Follow These Practical and Automated
Online Privacy Protocols
to Legally Halt the Invasions
First, Download and install the Firefox web browser. This is a free and open source web browser created by a non-profit organization whose mission is to help you protect and keep control over your online privacy and security.
Once you’ve downloaded your copy, go through the simple steps under “Secure Your Personal Info” and customize your security settings.
Make sure to set Firefox to “Private Browsing.” This setting tells Firefox not to keep a record of your history or to delete the history each time you close or restart Firefox. This will help halt or limit any intrusion similar to “history stealing.” But it may not be enough for other methods of privacy invasion.
Next, make Firefox more potent by including these optional and free add-ons:
2) Ghostery – Allows you to identify and block third party companies that work behind the scenes to track what you do online. These companies include ad networks, behavioral data collectors, and web analytic firms. Ghostery allows you to detect what is going on in the background, learn about the firm or firms operating behind the scenes, and it gives you the control to block them or allow them to continue monitoring your activity.
3) BetterPrivacy – Enables you to better protect yourself from “Flash-cookies,” a previous generation of supercookie still in wide use today. With the BetterPrivacy add-on, you can find these supercookies on your system, manage them, and delete them.
4) PrivacyChoice TrackerBlocker – This add-on includes many of the functions of the others, however it also has the ability to stop over 425 tracking companies from reading or writing cookies onto your computer and can even delete tracking tags left in HTML5 storage (HTML5 is a newer Internet technology recently being exploited for supercookie use).
Of course, these suggestions are just one part of protecting yourself online. What’s nice is once you’ve installed the Firefox web browser and the privacy and security add-ons – and customized these tools to your preferences – much of the protection will run automatically, saving you time and better protecting you.
As new technologies are created to assault your privacy and security, Independent Living will be here to make you aware of them and what actions you can take to protect your independence and self-reliance.