Latest Casualty Of NSA Spying Revelations: Web Advertising Based On Tracking Users

from the collateral-benefits dept

As we’ve noted before, Edward Snowden’s revelations about the globe-spanning spying being conducted by the NSA are have all sorts of interesting knock-on consequences. Here’s another: people are starting to worry about being tracked by online advertisers, and taking action to avoid it, as this story in Adweek explains:

Now that consumers know that NSA spooks are reviewing their every click, online privacy has become a much bigger concern.

After seven weeks of steady media coverage, the percentage of Internet users worried about their online privacy jumped 19 percent, from 48 percent in June (when the story first appeared in The Guardian and Washington Post) to 57 percent in July, according to Annalect, Omnicom Media Group’s data and analytics company.

The findings have huge implications for the targeted advertising because the more concerned Internet users are about privacy, the more likely they are to change settings and block tracking.

Some might think that a pro-active approach to privacy protection is a good thing, but it’s deeply problematic for the online advertising industry that has largely built its business model around tracking people’s online habits. Further evidence of the growing unease about privacy issues is provided by this advertisement from the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) [pdf], which was run in Advertising Age recently:

Rather bizarrely, this accuses the Mozilla open source project of “hijacking the Internet” because the former wants to give users greater control over tracking by advertisers. I’ve discussed elsewhere why such a claim is particularly ridiculous — Mozilla has probably done more than most to free the Internet, rather than hijack it. And as the Adweek story indicates, it’s Mozilla rather than the DAA that is in tune with the general public’s concerns at the moment, so attacking the open source project for trying to help users to block unwanted tracking and have more control over their own information is hardly going to win the online advertising industry many friends at a time when it needs them.

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Comments on “Latest Casualty Of NSA Spying Revelations: Web Advertising Based On Tracking Users”

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out_of_the_blue says:

Also without mentioning Google! How can you not on this topic?

The mega-corporation far in front for tracking everyone around the web, and no mention. Hmm. Gotta be by intent.

Don’t want to be tracked? Get Noscript, remove Google from its whitelist; and install the hosts file from below to stop Google’s many para-sites using web-bugs and other tracking.

Of course that’s not going to stop Google entirely, they’re sneaky and pervasive, pay off most web sites, but makes a statement: DON”T ADVERTISE AT ME.

Worse than being censored on the net is being advertised. You can escape censorship with your ideas intact; advertising uses lures and tricks to re-shape your very mind.

Google is in advertising, not freedom. Advertising is commercial propaganda full of deceit.

Spying is the main ‘business model’ of the internet, especially for Google and Facebook.

anonreply says:

Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Sep 13th, 2013 @ 4:38pm

Jiw exactly does linux protect you from advertising? Or from the NSA for that matter? They are tapping the backbone, what desktopOS you use makes no difference when it comes to advertising or spying. If you are tslking about GNU/Linux and referencing specific tools like GNUPGP, then say that, dont misrepresent by tagging an Operating system as the culprit.

anonreply says:

Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Sep 13th, 2013 @ 4:38pm

How exactly does linux protect you from advertising? Or from the NSA for that matter? They are tapping the backbone, what desktopOS you use makes no difference when it comes to advertising or spying. If you are tslking about GNU/Linux and referencing specific tools like GNUPGP, then say that, dont misrepresent by tagging an Operating system as the culprit.

Anonymous Coward says:


I like their tagline, “Free to make your own privacy choices.” The option to block third-party cookies has been around for quite a while. What they’re campaigning so desperately against is Mozilla’s choice to turn that option on by default.

Users will be just as free as they’ve ever been to make their own privacy choices; the only difference is that users who don’t make their own privacy choices will now get the higher level of privacy by default.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s true. The NSA has been causing all sorts of collateral damage with their obsessive, compulsive, unconstitutional, and therefore illegal spying on law-abiding US citizens.

I try to click on some ads on Techdirt every now and then. Most of them don’t come through because I use Tor with javascript disabled. If I see an animated GIF ad I click on it though.

Although sometimes the animated GIF’s just redirect to a blank screen. Like this one does.;sz=600×300;ord=123456789?

I guess it needs javascript or cookies to work. I try to help out! I refuse to open myself up to zero-day javascript exploits and cookie tracking though. 🙁

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Mozilla listening to consumers...

As a longtime Firefox user, let me assure you that Mozilla listens to consumers when consumers say what Mozilla wants to hear. Consider the “Awesome Bar” that replaced the location bar, the removal of the status bar, the removal of the UI for disabling Javascript (and forcing it enabled for anyone who had it turned off), the removal of the ability to have separate search providers for the search bar versus the Awesome Bar, and the omnipresent answer that if you dislike some change, you should just write an extension to put it back the way it was.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Mozilla listening to consumers...

Yes, Mozilla seem intent on making Firefox as dumb as possible, in order to appeal to people who are as dumb as possible. I’ve tried to convince them that the inferior people are unworthy of their efforts — that they should simply abandon the stupid to their fate — but to no avail.

At some point it’s going to be forked and many of the things now in extensions — e.g. AdBlock, NoScript — will be built-in.

Violynne (profile) says:

Actually, I do blame Mozilla, Microsoft, Netscape, and now Google for their nefarious action of allowing cross-site cookie reading to begin with.

Back in the day, no other site could read cookies.

This whole tracking issue is their own damn fault.

Bring it back the way it was and let web developers deal with storing site setting attributes.

Good grief.

Ophelia Millais (profile) says:

Re: If the advertisers can track you...

I wouldn’t even consider the companies that do the tracking on behalf of advertisers and the NSA to be necessarily distinct entities. We’re talking about fully opaque companies specializing in things like ad placement, analytics, and content/widget hosting. Their resources are embedded in practically every webpage we visit nowadays, and are almost always transmitted unencrypted. I count about 20 unnecessary such hosts embedding resources on this page alone. So how can we see whether any one of these is run by, colluding with, or being snooped on by the NSA or anyone else?

Try getting any these companies to tell you just how they operate, who exactly they share our data with, how secure the data is, and what breaches they’ve had. Ask them if they’re, in any way, in league with the NSA or any other branch of law enforcement. Ask them how many NSLs, subpoenas, and requests they’ve gotten, and how much data they’ve disclosed, including inadvertently, to third parties, including government, law enforcement, and unidentified persons.

This is where my mind goes whenever someone suggests that we have nothing to worry about from advertisers tracking us.

Anonymous Coward says:

You say that like it's a bad thing

Advertisers are parasites infesting the Internet: whatever hurts them is good. Before they came along and spread their filth into every corner they could possibly reach, the Internet was a much better place. I wish for their immediate and complete extinction.

It would be the best improvement to the Internet that we could possibly hope for. Yes, some sites would fail: GOOD! Those supported by advertising deserve to fail. I wish them misery, bankruptcy and oblivion.

Anonymous Coward says:

one of the very worst companies, if not THE worst, is Google! even though i have the ‘do not track’ option enabled and use various others methods, as soon as you log into anything Google, you are immediately open to them. i found out the extent of this when i wanted to buy a present for a relation that lives in a different country to me. all went fine up to the point of paying and the pages changed immediately to the local web site and currency. after checking with Google, i was told that as soon as any signs in, they are tracked by IP address and that no one can order an item for payment or delivery in another country. how fucking obnoxious is that??

Anonymous Coward says:

You can thank dataminers for all the malware you don’t have to click on to get now-a-days. Up till they showed how to do things without the user’s actions, to get anything you had to click on a link, like you have to still do with email.

I’ve a particular hard on against advertisers and dataminers. I may not stop all of them but I am sure not going to make it easy on them. Anything I can do to throw a monkey wrench in this process I do with glee.

Opening yourself up to advertising has gotten to be a roll of the dice on how long it will be before you get malware through the process. There will always be that one who hijacks the ad to serve malware.

It comes down to security of your equipment. My computer stuff is far more valuable to me than any website that demands one open one’s self up to commercials and I will walk every time before I will allow them through. A website wanting payment through that method does not equal the risk of dropping that security.

Anonymous Coward says:

The advertising industry is far more a threat to the general public then the NSA.

The NSA has a mission, objectives, and rules (even if oft broken). If you’re not a terrorist (hopefully in a more or less conventional sense of the term), or a high profile dissident/protester, odds are strongly that what the NSA does will never affect you.

Advertisers on the other hand have only one goal, and very few (meaningful, enforced) rules- make as much money as possible for as long as possible. Advertisers actions affect EVERYONE. They will sell their data to anyone who will buy it…

It should be fairly obvious that advertisers are used as a long and lawless arm of the NSA- there’s big money in DATA, and a huge pool of government/corporate interests that can benefit from it.

Anon-Y-Mouse (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The advertising industry is far more a threat to the general public then the NSA.

If only the NSA was staffed only by good people. Sadly I can’t see how that can be the case. There are bad apples everywhere, and the data set they are amassing is very tempting for somebody who wishes to control and influence others. It is too dangerous to allow it to be created by anybody. As Carter said, we are no longer in a functioning democracy. We must take our freedom and security back, and part of that security is being free from spying and targeted influence.

Anonymous Coward says:

The NSA story has already effected my web behavior in terms of browsers I chose.

I was starting to have some trouble in the newest version of Firefox with a memory leak but (which I cannot find a fix for).

I thought “Ok, I’ll try google Chrome”. After getting it set up and learning how to adjust my home pages (woohoo, more then one homepage!) I realized some sites I visit had a TON of ads, to the point that I could barely see the content on the page from how they took up much of the screen despite my large screen resolution.

So then I looked up a chrome ad blocker, and found the most popular one. But after installing it and seeing the page asking for donations to support the ad blocker, and an explanation of how they continued to support it, involving recording all of my web browsing.

I suddenly changed course then and decided a firefox that has a memory leak (for now) that requires me to close and restart it once or twice a day, but with ad blocker software that doesn’t record my entire web browsing history is WAY more worth it then Chrome and my web browsing traffic being recorded.

Anonymous Coward says:

RE: get real.

It’s you that needs to “get real”. In the real world YOU are responsible for maintaining your privacy/security; no ones going to do if for you, and there’s no easy ‘opt-out’. Defeatist thinking is part and parcel to the problem- and statements of futility are like cheer leading for fascism. It’s ridiculous to think of security/privacy as binary, it’s simply not so.

Why on earth is it that so many people think it’s scandalous for GOV officers to metaphorically stand behind you and watch everything you do on the Internet, but it’s fine when corporations do it??? I don’t think anyone should be able to monitor my Internet (absent specific probable cause and a valid warrant), but it upsets me far more that corporations try to do it, then that the government does- the government has valid ethical reasons for spying. (whether their means/methods/causes/concerns/targets/secrecy are appropriate for the current state of the world is a different debate.)

There are many ways to increase your security/privacy and say “No” to tracking/corporate surveillance. Are they 100% effective? maybe not- but they keep you from being ‘low hanging fruit’ and defeating 99% is a hell of a lot better then doing nothing, Doing anything is better then nothing- if your NOT a genuine gov target, odds are you can defeat everything that matters (assuming the nsa doesn’t sell it’s data back to advertisers). it’s not even that difficult, or expensive.

Here’s how:

As much as possible/practical, avoid services or software by:
Google (including Gmail…etc)
Or generally ANY Giant US corp.

Can’t/ don’t want to avoid them? no worries, neither can I- just by acknowledging and refusing their privacy invasive scripts and tracking as much as possible YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE, they don’t want to lose you as a customer. They now see that you care about privacy. It’s not all or nothing… Even if you use facebook- and allow there scripts to run (only on facebook, only when your using it) but then forbid them when your not- facebook just lost the ability to track you everywhere- they’re gonna notice that. You don’t have to stop using facebook to stop them tracking you everywhere with their ‘like’ buttons. (in case you don’t know, you don’t have to push a like button to be tracked by it, you don’t even have to have a facebook account…) anything > nothing…

None of this will help you if the nsa/fbi is actually after you- But odds are they could care less about you. Privacy isn’t dead at all, you just have to take some steps to take control and make conscious decisions about it.

Use a Good “no logging” non-US VPN- Netherlands or Sweden have good privacy laws still (Read the TOS!)
Use Linux. (if ubuntu, you should fix the Amazon leak)
Use to search.
Use Firefox or a fork like Seamonkey, Iceweasel…etc
with the Plugins/Extensions:
Ad block plus
Ghostery (don’t block cookies with this!)
Cookie Monster (cookies managed here)
Better Privacy (if you can’t live without flash)
Request Policy
Ref control
UA control

Firefox settings in “about:config” (type that in addressbar)
search for:

Set disk cache, offline cache, and geo enabled flags to false and the capacity to zero.

There ya go, it’s that simple. For 8$ a month and several hours to figure out and reinstall OS/software an average person could take far far far greater control of there security/privacy. All they need is the initiative. linux is now easy to install and use, everything works, and there’s plenty of vids online to show you how. it’s not like it used to be.. But here again Anything > Nothing. vpns, firefox,, and most if not all those plugins are available for windows and maybe apple too?

learning to use those plugins is the hardest thing about this- they will break some sites; with practice you’ll learn what has to run to get the content you want. resist the urge to allow entire pages to run, there’s usually no need too.

Just say “NO” to surveillance, it’s really not that hard.

Anonymous Coward says:

The nsa probably has cracked the vpn you’re using, and the one I’m using as well.

Does it really matter? You’ve still gained at least some privacy from corporate snooping; and in doing so, possibly made the gov snooping a more manual affair- rather then use going straight into the big ol data base, now they have to pick through the stream somehow. Is it resource intensive? Will you ever be enough of a priority for them to comb through for mundane and arbitrary details of you life for cataloging? don’t they have better things to do? to what extent can such a thing be automated? I don’t really know…

The nsa’s actions probably won’t affect your insurance rates/coverage, mortgage, credit worthiness, ability to be hired, or fired, to sue or be sued. Targeted data-mining could affect all these things in the future, if it’s not already prevalent today.

Anonymous Coward says:

“I disagree. I think that the erosion of our society and the trustworthiness of government and rule of law that results from the NSA (et al) actions directly affects every single one of us.”

Given all the news, I can see why you’d feel that way. Perhaps I’m naive, but I’m hoping that all these leaks and debate will result in real meaningful oversight and a very tailored and narrow breadth of function for these powers. I’m not naive enough to think they’ll lessen the powers, but it doesn’t seam unreasonable to me that they would bring them back in line with their original purpose; if for no other reason then the threat of further leaks/whistleblowers and the gross complications that are being introduced to caselaw because of all that’s transpired. It’s a clusterfock, however you look at it, surely something has to give- what are the paths of least resistance?

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