I got into conversation last night with one of the
founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation who was in
Dublin after attending Kilkenomics. This chance meeting prompted me to
do a little surfing about the EFF and I found a browser
fingerprint profiler that they have written which told me
that my browser is unique amongst all the browsers it had
Browser fingerprinting is a technique that web advertising and
marketing companies use to identify individual people across many
sites so that they can assemble a fuller profile of an individual
from their browsing habits.
This type of privacy-compromise has been in the Irish news
lately: Since last week, Billy
Hawkes, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, has been investigating Facebook for potential privacy
breaches. The Irish Data Protection Commissioner is tasked with
this Europe-wide investigation because Facebook's European HQ is in
One of the complaints registered against Facebook is that it is
using "third-party cookies" to follow people around on the web,
reporting back to Facebook exactly who has visited what site.
Indeed, it has previously been found that "Like" buttons on sites
were sending user information back to Facebook even when you were
logged out. At the time the behaviour was reported, Facebook called
it an accident. Yesterday it was discovered that this tracking
cookie has been re-enabled by Facebook.
So today a couple of us had a look around to see how to disrupt
these tracking cookies and we found a browser add-on
called "Ghostery" which also claims to block other tracking
mechanisms, such as invisible web-bugs.
It's interesting to look at who's looking at you. Here's
Ghostery running on www.rte.ie:
In RTE's case the sites that were blocked do not collect any
data on you as an individual. They do collect what Ghostery calls
"pseudonymous" information - i.e. your IP address, which in some
circumstances may be enough to identify you specifically. But the
agencies that monitor the RTE site are unlikely to try to figure
out who you are from your IP address, so these tracking devices are
far less disagreeable than Facebook - which knows exactly who
Ghostery also blocks Facebook, so it will stop Mark Zuckerberg
from spying on you (see him sweat about privacy here) as will a more
lightweight plug-in called Disconnect.me.
By the way, Billy Hawkes the Data Commissioner doesn't seem to
have a Facebook account :-/