By Subadri at 26 April, 2012, 2:05 pm
It’s getting harder and harder to remain anonymous on the Web. According to a new study, many sites are sending their users personal information to third parties when they do something as simple as sign up for a newsletter or change their settings.
“Your Web browsing, past, present, and future, is not associated with your identity”. Stanford University graduate student Jonathan Mayer wrote in his report. “Swap photos with friends on Photobucket and clue a couple dozen more into your username. Keep tabs on your favorite teams with Bleacher Report and you pass your full name to a dozen again. This isn’t a 1984 esque scaremongering hypothetical. This is what’s happening today. “
Researchers created an account and interacted with 185 Web sites that offering a sign-up, did not require purchase and had limited features so as to be practical for the study. They were able to identify a username or user ID leaked to a third party on 113 of those Web sites. The top five sites that received the data were: comScore, Google Analytics, Quantcast, Google’s DoubleClick, and Facebook.
In a statement, a Google spokesperson said, “we’ve never attempted or wanted to parse out personal information in any URL schema provided by a third-party site”.
Photo-sharing site Photobucket was among many sites found to embed usernames in many of its URLs. The study found Photobucket send usernames to 31 third parties. Tom Munro, CEO of Photobucket, said the site protects is user’s privacy and uses user IDs to “enhance the customer experience, ”not to allow advertisers to track them.
The report also found that when entering the wrong password on the Wall Street Journal site, the user’s e-mail address was sent to seven companies.
Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowits said that when private data is transferred to third parties, it can have damaging effects on a person’s life. “The bottom line”, he said, “is that cyberspace need not be a privacy-free zone.”