Researchers: You are not anonymous online!

Two German researchers say they have exposed the porn-browsing habits of a judge, a cyber-crime investigation and the drug preferences of a politician.

The researchers obtained huge amounts of information about the browsing habits of three million German citizens from companies that gather “clickstreams”.

These are detailed records of everywhere that people go online.

The researchers argue such data – which some firms scoop up and use to target ads – should be protected.

The data is supposed to be anonymised, but analysis showed it could easily be tied to individuals.

People’s browsing history is often used to tailor marketing campaigns.

Anonymity on web
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The results of the research by Svea Eckert and Andreas Dewes were revealed at the Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas this weekend.

The pair found that 95% of the data they obtained came from 10 popular browser extensions.

“What these companies are doing is illegal in Europe but they do not care,” said Ms Eckert, adding that the research had kicked off a debate in Germany about how to curb the data gathering habits of the firms.

Before the data is used to customise the range of adverts which people see, any information that could be used to identify exactly who generated the clicks is supposed to be removed.

However, said Mr Dewes, it was trivial to tie the information directly to people and reveal exactly where they went online, the terms they searched for and the things they bought.

Source: BBC.com

Mohamad El Hout, MBA, M.Eng., CISSP

Mohamad is an entrepreneur and a Senior Security Consultant dealing with the design and delivery of standard and complex security gateway solutions, covering a wide range of cutting edge technologies. His interests include business, technology, leadership, sports, and the continuous pursuit of knowledge.

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