Internet tracking code more common than ever

November 8, 2012 7:06:23 PM PST
A new study shows when you surf the Internet, you're being watched more than ever before.

"I don't like the idea that I'm being tracked; I'm not on Facebook, I think that it's gotten a little bit out of control," Jenny Lightstone said.

Now, a UC Berkeley study shows the use of tracking code like cookies that follow you across the Internet and record your browsing history, has risen 11 percent in just five months.

"If that trend keeps up, we're going to see a doubling in tracking in about 2.5 years," privacy analyst and attorney Sarah Downey said.

Downey's company Abine sponsored the study. They make privacy software -- a business she says is a game of cat and mouse.

"Advertisers are always trying to find new ways around that to track consumers," Downey said.

Researchers found the two biggest trackers are Google and Facebook -- who mainly follow you around their own sites. But lots of other sites have code embedded from third party advertisers.

"The highest number of trackers across the board is surprisingly news," Downey said.

Researchers found the San Francisco Chronicle's SF Gate site had 46 different pieces of tracking code -- the most of any news site they studied.

In second place, the Drudge Report with 44, followed by USA Today, National Geographic, and Examiner.com.

Companies say they use the data to show you better ads.

But Downey says they can sell your Web history to employers deciding whether to offer you a job.

"There are all sorts of other uses of that data behind the scenes that consumers either don't know about or don't like when they hear about," Downey said.

There's another consequence. Researchers say tracking data accounts for more than one-quarter of your Web browser's Internet use. They say that's slowing down your computer. And if you're on a mobile device, it can even cost you money.

"There's a significant amount of bandwidth that you're wasting to power this tracking," Downey said.

That could lead to overages on your wireless plan.

Downey says unless there's a law against it, it will only get worse.


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