It was almost shocking when I first installed a browser add-on called Ghostery and began to click on various articles at The Guardian. With each click, I discovered that this news publication, which has been primarily tasked with reporting on Edward Snowden and top secret surveillance operations conducted by the National Security Agency, has been surveilling its own readers.
I’ve intermittently noted the existence of “web bugs,” “web beacons” or “corporate trackers” embedded within articles at The Guardian, Salon.com and elsewhere but I’ve never given this phenomenon its own write-up. So here it is. Of course the point of this exercise ought to be clear: these publications, while taking on the pious, sanctimonious role of privacy purists, are using multiple third party resources to collect detailed information about nearly every visitor who reads one of the various posts about how the use of digital technology should be a totally private affair.
Programmers for sites like The Guardian, and even here at The Daily Banter, have embedded tiny, invisible file objects within each page. When you view a page, the web bug is automatically downloaded to your computer along with everything else that appears on the page. From there, the objects sends information back to servers owned by various corporate analytics and ad agencies tasked with gathering, compiling and analyzing the data. Web bugs differ from “cookies,” small text files containing information about how you browse through a particular site, but can function in conjunction with cookies as a means of collecting your data and creating a profile of how you get to a particular site and what you do once you’re there.
By gathering details about you and your internet browsing habits, the sales and marketing teams for each publication are not only capable of observing, among other things, who’s reading, but also where each reader lives along with each reader’s trail of clicks through the site. The goal is to know who’s clicking and to best deliver targeted advertising that will encourage readers to click more often, thus increasing revenue.
Boiled down to an elevator pitch: it’s spying for profit… [CONTINUE READING]