Concern about privacy intrusions often originates from an innocuous-sounding source: cookies. So named because of the "crumbs" of information they collect, cookies are codes imbedded in a computer hard drive that track web activity. They are legal and in many ways beneficial. For example, cookies "remember" passwords so repeat users of a site don't have to type it in every time they return. They save user preferences and enable basic Internet conventions like a shopping cart that makes online buying easier and less time-consuming. But a third party, unbeknownst to the user, also can set cookies that follow that user from site to site, gathering information about him or her. The proliferation of this practice has spawned a new business category: data brokers. These companies harvest public records along with web activity of all kinds, then mash it up with algorithms designed to help clients target potential customers with advertisements. Although individual names aren't attached to this data, scholars say there is sufficient information to tease out a person's identity.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Stanford Magazine - Can I Get Some Privacy? - March/April 2013