Surfing porn sites in Incognito Mode? Google, Facebook know what you're up to

Facebook and Google are logging in to your porn browsing behaviour even in incognito mode. Google tracks 74% of sites, Oracle 24% and Facebook 10%

By BusinessToday.In  
Friday, July 19, 2019

Big brothers Google and Facebook are always watching you, even in your most private moments. New research led by Microsoft has confirmed that online privacy is a myth, even if you think you have covered all your tracks. A study from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania scanned 22,484 porn websites and found that Facebook and Google are logging in to your porn browsing behaviour even in incognito mode.

Generally, users recognise a website as a single entity that is represented by the website's URL. However, websites include code from other parties of which users are typically unaware of. Such codes can allow companies to monitor the actions of users without their knowledge or consent and build detailed profiles of their habits and interests. Such profiles are often used for targeted advertising, for example, by showing ads for dog food to dog owners. Many websites and apps have revenue sharing agreements with third-party advertising networks and gain direct monetary benefit from including third-party code.

On the other  hand, tracking users on websites without advertisements can also provide insights into their habits, and online advertising companies like Facebook and Google offer web developers a range of "free" non-advertising services subsidized by allowing these companies to track users. For example, a Facebook 'Like' button on a porn website allows the Menlo Park-based company to track all the visitors to the website.

The study revealed that third-party tracking is widespread, privacy policies are difficult to understand and do not disclose such tracking, and third-parties may be able to infer specific sexual interests based solely on a site URL.

"Tracking on these sites is highly concentrated by a handful of major companies," said the researchers who identified 230 different companies and services tracking users in their sample.

Among non-pornography-specific services, Google tracks 74% of sites, Oracle 24%, Facebook 10%, Cloudflare and Yadro 7%, and New Relic and Lotame 6%. Porn-specific trackers in the top ten are exoClick (40%), JuicyAds (11%), and EroAdvertising (9%).

"Everyone is at risk when such data is accessible without users' consent, and thus can potentially be leveraged against them by malicious agents acting on moralistic claims of normative gender or sexuality. Tracking risks are heightened for vulnerable populations whose porn usage might be classified as non-normative or contrary to their public life", said the study to be published in the journal New Media & Society.

In 2017, Pornhub, one of the largest porn websites, received 28.5 billion visits, with users performing 50,000 searches per second on the site. If that doesn't shock you then read this - porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined! And, that is a huge amount of data for Google and Facebook.

Edited By: Udit Verma

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