Potential Fraud: Who’s Web Watching You? Answers you can finally see!

By Joseph Raczynski, Thomson Reuters
@joerazz 

Who really knows you?  Is it your friends, the government, or could it be the companies on the web that have the best sights?  Well, do not be astonished if it is the latter.  Online companies may be better acquainted with you than your family.  Fortunately, you can actively in an intuitive visual manner see which sites are tracking you, who is sharing your information and most importantly, how to stop it.

Since the beginning of the web, advertisers have been authoring hidden code on webpages to get to know you.  It is not just legitimate business that use trackers, fraudulent websites are also guilty of these practices.  They have imbedded items like web bugs, cookies, web beacons, and tracking bugs to develop profiles based on your browsing history.  That information allows them to precisely market and advertise to you.  Until last week, there was not a useful way of conceptualizing which sites were sharing and with whom. 

Recently at TED, which is a community of technology innovation leadership talks, Gary Kovacs the CEO of Mozilla Corporation, developers of the browser FireFox, spoke about web tracking.  He announced a plugin for FireFox that allows users to see who is watching and sharing information.    

Collusion is an experimental add-on for Firefox and allows you to see all the third parties that are tracking your movements across the Web.  It will show, in real time, how that data creates a spider-web of interaction between companies and other trackers”, states Mozilla. 

I attempted to see how this works.  After downloading the plugin, I went to CNN.com.  Each little circle on the graphic below represents a website.  The gray circle in the middle is CNN; the red dots surrounding are advertising sites that have placed cookies in your browser.  They are now tracking your behavior on CNN.com.  Hovering your mouse over any circle on the application reveals enhanced information about them.

 

Then I visited Washingtonpost.com and you can see what happens.  More cookies dropped onto my computer.  However, the biggest eye opener…

 

You can see below that the advertising companies are now sharing your information from CNN to Washingtonpost.com and then when I went to Amazon, more sharing occurred.  The biggest player in this advertising market is DoubleClick, now owned by Google. 

 

As you can visualize here, nearly every site gathers and tracks you.  This can be quite alarming when the cookies are represented graphically. 

What to do:

Since not all websites are safe, some even could be fraudulent; look into a plugin that blocks these trackers.  Install TrackerBlock, which works for both Firefox and Internet Explorer.  Collusion is the tool that allows you to see who is tracking you and delete them.