October 12, 2011, 12:00 AM — As you may have suspected, there is a problem with groups such as the EFF, EPIC, ACLU and others who weave wild stories about the amount of information advertisers are trying to collect, as they advocate for consumer privacy rules on the Internet.
There is also a problem with the paranoid obsessive people in your office who use special web browsers, avoid all the sites everyone else depends on, clean out their cookie caches every 10 minutes, encrypt and password protect even documents they send to you and blacklist so many things it's hard to even get a reply in email back to them:
They're not paranoid enough.
A big enough conspiracy can make paranoia look naive
According to results of a study being conducted at Stanford's Center for Internet & Society, not only do many popular web sites wring as much personally identifiable information as possible out of its own users, they funnel that data to other web sites, spreading news of one user's browsing habits to as many as 22 companies with every visit to a particular site.
Worse, the information leaks aren't just anonymous clicktrails – a record of the pages you've viewed and links you've clicked, without anything that could identify you personally.
They usually – not sometimes, not frequently – usually contain enough information to identify you personally as the one who visited a particular site.
The rate of leakage makes privacy statements like that of Home Depot – which, typically, promise not to sell or rent your personal information with third parties – irrelevant, misleading or outright lies.
The study, from Stanford Ph.D. candidate Jonathan Mayer, found that, by the most conservative, forgiving standards he could reasonably use, at least 45 percent of the 185 popular web sites he studied leak user names or user IDs.
Third party sites can collect that information, use a simple algorithm to match it with social-networking profiles or other publicly available data, and name the end user accurately 7 times out of every 10, according to a related study published in May that maps out a huge and growing mismatch between technology able to violate users' privacy and those available to protect it (PDF).
They know all your secrets...and offer the perfect solution at an attractive price!
The real revelation isn't that private data can leak out when you hit a web, site, it's the speed of the leakage and number of receivers.