W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > w3c-wai-ig@w3.org > July to September 2001

Fw: bugs spying

From: David Poehlman <poehlman1@home.com>
Date: Thu, 16 Aug 2001 15:44:20 -0400
Message-ID: <00aa01c1268b$d85a7100$2cf60141@mtgmry1.md.home.com>
To: "wai-ig list" <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>


Study: Net crawling with hidden, snooping bugs
(CNN) -- A new report says the use of concealed bugs to collect
information
about online visitors has proliferated dramatically in recent years, in
many
cases on personal Web sites without the owners' knowledge.

Cyveillance, an Internet tracking company, on Tuesday released the
report
in
which researchers say Web pages in 2001 are nearly five times more
likely
to
include the hidden tracking devices than in 1998. And many of those bugs
are
said to reside on sites associated with well-known companies or
products.

So-called Web bugs collect information similar to that gathered by
banner
advertisements, but users can't detect the presence of bugs without
looking
at the source code or using special software.

"One of most important findings was the presence of Web bugs on the home
pages of leading brand sites," said study author Bryan Murray.

"Web bugs are an issue of controversy today -- whether it's ethical to
use
them or share the information with third parties. We wanted to raise the
level of awareness of their use on the Internet."

One reported finding of the study, which looked at 1 million Web sites,
is
that the secret snoopers infest personal sites more often than
commercial
pages.

The bugs frequently appear on personal pages because sophisticated hosts
or
third parties like large community sites or ISPs offer free Web
page-building tools to customers, according to the report.

"Most personal page owners are likely not aware that the Web bugs are
present and collecting information from visitors," the report reads.

Third parties, including digital marketing companies, often place the
bugs.
They're also known as "clear gifs" and "Web beacons," and they monitor
IP
addresses, browser information and the surfing habits of visitors.

Unknowingly offering information
In some cases, Web surfers who provide personal information to one site,
for
example, to order a pair of tennis shoes, might unwittingly give a
completely different Web site the opportunity to access their data,
should
both sites have bugs from the same marketing company.

Web bugs were found on 18 percent of personal pages and 16 percent of
home
pages affiliated with top corporate brands, the report says. The study
found
that the bugs, usually hidden as transparent, one-pixel-sized graphics,
show
up on 3.9 percent of all sites, compared to 0.7 sites three years ago.

Officials of some major ISPs say they use Web bugs to track consumer
trends -- never to collect information about specific users. And online
privacy advocates acknowledge that Web bugs have beneficial uses, such
as
monitoring copyright violations or gathering basic statistical
information.

But the idea of a hidden infestation worries some electronic
civil-rights
advocates.

"Web bugs seemed to be used in a lot of places. Often companies will use
them but imply in their privacy statements that they wouldn't use such
things," said David Martin, an Internet specialist with the Privacy
Foundation.

Great for 'beer money'
The co-founder of Be Free Inc., which places Web bugs on sites
affiliated
with AOL and other major companies, said his Internet marketing firm
shares
anonymous aggregate data with its partners, but does not gather or
distribute any personal information. (AOL Time Warner is the parent
company
of CNN.com.)

"We do not collect any user identifying information. We do not do that
today
and we will never do that, without explicit permission of users," said
Tom
Gerace. "We don't record name, address, phone number, credit card
number,
any of that."

Gerace took exception to the view that many personal Web pages had bugs
placed on them without the consent of their authors.

"Where individual Web users have beacons, it is because the owners of
those
sites have placed them on their site to make some money," he said. "It's
a
great way to generate beer money."

If you'd like to keep the bugs away from your browser, consider checking
http://www.bugnosis.org. It offers a free downloadable bug detector,
created
in part by Martin, which works with more recent versions of Internet
Explorer. Turn down the volume on your machine, however. Every time it
detects a bug, Bugnosis cries out, "Ah-oh!"
Received on Thursday, 16 August 2001 15:44:23 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0+W3C-0.50 : Tuesday, 19 July 2011 18:13:55 GMT