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Online tracking increasing at an incredible pace

November 8th, 2012

Do you have any idea how often you are tracked when you’re online? A new study shows that racking of web users’ behavior is growing at a startling pace. But a free browser add on tool can protect your privacy if online tracking concerns you.

Berkeley Center for Law and Technology‘s Fall 2012 Web Privacy Census, based on online privacy company Abine‘s web crawling and analysis technology, determined that the use of third-party tracking cookies on the 100 most popular websites increased by 11 percent from May to October 2012.

Albine makes a free Do Not Track browser add on tool that not only prevents web sites from tracking you, it will show you exactly how many tracking cookies – some from third parties – a site is trying to install.

Amount of tracking will double

If present trends continue, the amount of online tracking will double in about two and a half years. In addition, tracking technology is evolving as advertisers move away from Flash cookies, which iOS devices do not support, to HTML5 local storage.  The study concludes that online tracking is growing in both pervasiveness and sophistication.

“In our most recent crawl of websites, we found statistically significant increases in online tracking from just five months ago,” said Chris Hoofnagle, director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.

“All of the most popular websites are using cookies. In addition, the vast majority of these cookies are from third party domains that consumers may not expect to be present on the site.”

Increasing at “an incredible pace”

“The Fall 2012 Web Privacy Census shows that online tracking is increasing at an incredible pace,” stated Bill Kerrigan, CEO of Abine.

“In just five short months, the quantity of trackers and the technology used to track both evolved. The consequences of all this data collection are growing and real, and we hope that by raising awareness people will know they need to take action.”

The rapid evolution of online tracking techniques often outpaces the knowledge or awareness of US consumers, a majority of whom said in a 2012 Pew survey that they “don’t like having [their] online behavior tracked and analyzed.”

An October 2012 privacy study, also from UC Berkeley, found that 60 percent of consumers said they would want Do Not Track options to stop websites from collecting information about users, a position that the advertising industry opposes.

Berkeley used Abine’s proprietary crawling and analysis technology for both the May and October 2012 web analyses.

Technology provides greater privacy

The technology also powers Abine’s DoNotTrackPlus, the free browser add-on that surpasses the passive Do Not Track header used by most browsers to actively block online tracking technologies, enabling greater online privacy for web users.

“The Fall 2012 Web Privacy Census shows that online tracking is increasing at an incredible pace,” stated Bill Kerrigan, CEO of Abine.

“In just five short months, the quantity of trackers and the technology used to track both evolved. The consequences of all this data collection are growing and real, and we hope that by raising awareness people will know they need to take action.”

The results come on the heels of a 2012 presidential election that saw both campaigns using a previously unseen amount and depth of online tracking to categorize eligible voters and influence their votes.

As the holiday season approaches, website tracking will play a significant role behind the scenes on top retail websites. US consumers spent $32 billion on online shopping in 2011 and are expected to top that number in 2012.

For more information and to view the Fall 2012 Web Privacy Census, please visit www.law.berkeley.edu/privacycensus.htm.

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