Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Anonymity Online

Is there a difference between a web service that tracks Internet use to target ads and a service that tracks use and ties the use to a person's name or other personally-identifying information? Does the question actually come down to what constitutes one's "identity?"

The Pew Research Center recently reported "86% of internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints—ranging from clearing cookies to encrypting their email, from avoiding using their name to using virtual networks that mask their internet protocol (IP) address."

But those phishing for information can simply rely on human nature to learn more about Internet users. The typical example one hears about is someone posting loads of vacation pictures with a time and date stamp indicating the person is not at home. In other words, any technological steps we might take to maintain our privacy may not be sufficient to protect us from ourselves.

The latest online tracking tool is "canvas fingerprinting," which "works by instructing the visitor’s Web browser to draw a hidden image. Because each computer draws the image slightly differently, the images can be used to assign each user’s device a number that uniquely identifies it."

How much of this is legal? Find the answers in our collection: