Thursday, July 28, 2011

Your browser knows who you are #Panopticlick

A throwaway comment in yesterday's post needs further explanation: I wrote, "we can be pretty much uniquely identified by our browser settings, our search history, or the computer hardware and IP address combinations that we use"

Firstly, part of the rationale behind Gmail and Google's purchase of YouTube and Blogger and other services, now also Google+, is to get us to login - and stay logged in - as we surf the web and use our browser. That way our interests can be matched to our identity to learn what we might buy if it's advertised to us.

Facebook, too, has that nice, convenient "Keep me logged in" checkbox that's 'On' by default. Part of their strategy to get other sites to offer a connect with Facebook option, or to allow people to login using their Facebook id, is to capture an ever more rich picture of what users do on the Internet when they're not on the Facebook home site.

However, it's not even necessary for users to login to a site such as these to be uniquely identified.

Check out and see whether your browser settings are sufficiently rare that you are one of a kind. Mine were. This can be used to identify an individual's web history, Google searches, page clicks and a constant stream of data personalized to me in the cookies that all major web sites store on each visitor's machine.

Of course, if I then use my browser to login to Gmail, Facebook, LinkedIn or one of the other sites then these unique browser settings can be matched to my name so I'm no longer anonymous. Hmmm
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