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WEB BUGS - ILLEGALLY TRACKING YOUR EVERY MOVE

State of Michigan charges web sites for not disclosing "profiling" tactics

Source: ZeroKnowldege

Posted on July 5, 2000

      The state of Michigan charged four Web sites in June of not disclosing in their privacy policies the practice of profiling using "Web bugs". The state attorney general's office served Stockpoint.com, Procrit.com, AmericasBaby.com and iFriends.com with "notices of intended action," alleging that they were in violation of the state's Consumer Protection Act.

      Web bugs are invisible one-pixel by one-pixel images that are served by an advertising network such as DoubleClick to "covertly shadow" a user's activity on a given page. Bugs are often used on pages that do not contain banners but act like banners in that they allow the ad network to read and write cookies to the user's computer as well as log information such as IP, referrer, browser, etc.

      For example, by examining the HTML source code of Procrit's home page (http://www.procrit.com/), a drug manufacturer, we can see that the following image is being inserted by DoubleClick:

IMG SRC="http://ad.doubleclick.net/activity;srcd526;type=views1;cat=home;ord=[ Time]?" WIDTH=1 HEIGHT=1 BORDER=0

      This allows DoubleClick to modify one of the cookies that it has written to a computer to include information that the user has also visited the site of an HIV-related drug manufacturer.

      Web bugs allow profilers to build even more detailed databases because bugs can be placed on pages that don't contain banners and even in HTML e-mail. If DoubleClick ever merges its online database with the Abacus database, it will have a very precise log of over 100 million North Americans' surfing habits right at its fingertips.

      Web bugs are used on many sites including FedEx, Quicken and several Johnson & Johnson sites.

      The best protection against the bugs is to manage your cookies using the Cookie Jar in Freedom. You can select, block all cookies or simply delete those that are written by ad networks such as DoubleClick.

      For more information on Web bugs, see Richard Smith's Web bugs FAQ: http://www.tiac.net/users/smiths/privacy/wbfaq.htm




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