Researchers: ‘Clickstream’ Data for Online Advertisers Can Identify Individuals’ Browsing History

Chinese authorities say they have uncovered a massive underground operation run by Apple employees selling computer and phone users' personal data.

Two researchers have issued a cyber-security warning after they were able to discover the web habits of individuals including the internet porn they browse.

Svea Eckert and Andreas Dewes revealed their results at the Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas this weekend, where they warned that advert-tailoring “clickstreams” used to target commercials at users based on their browsing patterns could be used to discover more intimate data.

“The data is supposed to be anonymised, but analysis showed it could easily be tied to individuals,” reported the BBC on Monday. “The pair found that 95% of the data they obtained came from 10 popular browser extensions.”

“Before the data is used to customise the range of adverts which people see, any information that could be used to identify exactly who generated the clicks is supposed to be removed,” they continued. “However, said Mr. Dewes, it was ‘trivial’ – meaning easy – to tie the information directly to people and reveal exactly where they went online, the terms they searched for and the things they bought.”

“The public information included links people shared via Twitter, YouTube videos they reported watching, news articles they passed on via social media or when they posted online photos of items they bought or places they visited,” the BBC concluded. “In many cases, he said, it was even easier to de-anonymise because the clickstreams contained links to people’s personal social media admin pages which directly revealed their identity.”

At the conference, Eckert issued a warning to governments around the world, urging them to restrict how long data can be kept.

“What these companies are doing is illegal in Europe but they do not care,” claimed Eckert. “This could be so creepy to abuse… You could have an address book and just look up people by their names and see everything they did.”

“After the research project we deleted the data because we did not want to have it close to our hands any more… We were scared that we would be hacked,” she continued. “You have to be very careful… It’s so, so dangerous.”

Charlie Nash is a reporter for Breitbart Tech. You can follow him on Twitter @MrNashington or like his page at Facebook.


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