Web Tracking Technologies
Internet companies are deploying a number of increasingly devious and sophisticated tracking methods.
Cookies give users a special ID, which are small text files that are stored in the user’s computer, mobile, e-reader, tablet or other device used to access the Online Services (“Device”). The cookies are employed to recognize you and your access privileges for certain locations on the Online Services as well as to track site usage. Subscribers who do not accept cookies from the Online Services cannot access many areas of the Online Services. We use both “session ID cookies” and “persistent cookies.” Session ID cookies are used to store information while a user is logged into the Online Services and expire when the user closes his/her browser. Persistent cookies are used to make tasks like logging into the Online Services easier for returning users by remembering a user’s login information. Persistent cookies stay on a user’s hard drive from one session to the next. “Flash cookies,” known as local shared objects, are data files placed on a Device via the Adobe Flash plug-in that may be built-in to or downloaded by you to your Device to personalize your visit. Our third-party service providers also may use Flash cookies to collect and store information. Flash cookies are different from standard browser cookies because of the amount of data, type of data, and how data is stored.
How to Protect Your Privacy Online
Web Beacons are small graphic images or other web programming code called web beacons (also known as “1×1 GIFs” or “clear GIFs”) may be included in our web pages and messages. Web beacons may be invisible to you, but any electronic image or other web programming code inserted into a web page or email can act as a web beacon. Web beacons or similar technologies may be used for a number of purposes, including, without limitation, to count visitors to the Online Services, to monitor how users navigate the Online Services, to count how many emails that were sent were actually opened or to count how many particular articles or links were actually viewed.
The way in which your browser is configured (especially the browser plugins used), together with details of your Operating System, allows you to be uniquely identified (and tracked) with a worryingly high degree of accuracy. Using the Tor browser with Tor disabled is a partial solution to this problem. This will help make your fingerprint look identical to all other Tor users, while still benefiting from the additional hardening built in to the Tor browser.
Built into HTML5 (the much-vaunted replacement to Flash) is web storage, also known as DOM (Document Object Model) storage. Creepier and much more powerful than cookies, web storage is an analogous way of storing data in a browser.
It is much more persistent, however, and has a much greater storage capacity. It also cannot normally be monitored, read, or selectively removed from your web browser.
All browsers enable web storage by default, but you can turn it off in Firefox and Internet Explorer.
Part of HTTP, the protocol for the World Wide Web, ETags are markers used by your browser to track resource changes at specific URLs. By comparing changes in these markers with a database, websites can build up a fingerprint, which can be used to track you.
ETags can also be used to respawn (zombie-style) HTTP and HTML5 cookies. And once set on one site, they can be used by associate companies to track you as well.
This kind of cache tracking is virtually undetectable, so reliable prevention is very hard. Clearing your cache between each website you visit should work, as should turning off your cache altogether. These methods are arduous, however, and will negatively impact your browsing experience.
History stealing (also known as history snooping) exploits the web’s design. It allows a website you visit to discover your past browsing history.
The bad news is that this information can be combined with social network profiling to identify you. It is also almost impossible to prevent.
If you mask your IP address with a VPN (or Tor) then you will be a long way towards disassociating your real identity from your tracked web behavior.
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