Where Facts And Controversy In The News Come Together In Truth

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Media And Auto Industry Worst For Sharing Your Info To 3rd Party Online ‘Trackers’

If You're Not Paying For Something And You're Not The Customer, Then You're The Product Being Sold… by Jack Swint

Every day we go online, read news, share on social media sites, listen to music, research everything from how to cook a recipe to how the latest health fad can slim our waistlines. Each click of the mouse as we do these things leaves breadcrumb trails of our interests, needs and websites we stumble upon.When you click on a business website, they then allow 3rd party companies to access, store and use your information without your knowledge and consent. If you're concerned about who can track you across the Web, Mozilla can now help you see exactly who's following you online instantly with a new and free experimental Firefox add-on called ‘Collusion.’

We experimented with the new ‘Collusion’ technology by randomly logging into both the Charleston Gazette and Daily Mail Newspapers, along with WCHS TV 8 and then automobile giant C&O Motors in St. Albans WV. What we discovered is how quickly the Collusion program generates spider-web graphs showing how third-party companies are accessing and analyzing our personal information then storing it without our knowledge or permission. And according to Mozilla, these third-party companies may have access to personal information you leave about your finances, health, relationships, interests, birthdays, preferences, address, occupation, age and more.

Not all tracking is bad. Many services rely on user data to provide relevant content and enhance your online experience. But most tracking happens without users' consent and without their knowledge. That’s not okay. It should be you who decides when, how and if you want to be tracked. The concept behind the tracking we investigated is to take your information, which then affects which online advertising you are served up, which credit card offers you are presented with, while also creating a profile of you with both correct and incorrect assumptions based on these connections.

When we reviewed the number of 'trackers' accessing our information from Charleston Newspapers, WCHS TV and C&O Motors (who have given permission to third- party companies to do so), it was astonishing just how many uninvited online businesses were allowed to intrude on our privacy. At no time did any of these 3 corporate websites ask for our permission or even notify us up-front that all of these third party companies would be tracking and or storing our information.

Each tracking company claims they are collecting information from IP Addresses, Flash and Browser Cookies. And the average amount of time they keep records is up to12 months. There are reported boundaries of what information is forbidden to be tracked, including no use of gov't IDs, financial and insurance numbers, current location or health info. But there is no government entity to ensure these rules are being followed.

Every tracker website offers up a statement claiming that your information is anonymous, but they contradict themselves by writing… "This company does not confirm that it honors Do Not Track." They also provide you with an "opt out" to keep your information from being accessed by their company. But, unless you already knew that company is obtaining your info, there is no way for you to know of any opt out ability. And, after all of their claims and disclaimers, these companies admit they do not verify if tracking is indeed stopped if you request it.

Below are examples of the companies who are obtaining your information from these 3 media outlets and one car dealership companies compare.

Note: Each dot in the below-pictured graphs represents a third-party tracking company found by the Mozilla Collusion tracking program while we were on the above 3 websites. With the Collusion program, you point your computers mouse on each dot and the ID of the 3rd party tracker appears. An inset screen then provides the link to their 'tracker' site.

Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail Newspaper

When first accessing the June 3, 2012 Sunday Gazette-Mail main page on their website, Collusion immediately detects that the newspaper is providing our cookie and IP address information to the following 22 companies: Exelator.com, Google.com, Pulse360.com, WTP101.com, Casalemedia.com, Doubleclick.net, Adexpose.com, Mookie1.com, Scorecardsearch.com, Newsinc.com, Legolasmedi.com, Adnxs.com, Quantserve.com, Adbrite.com, Collective-media.net, Btrll.com, Abmr.net, Telemetryverification.net, Crwdcntral.net.

Then, clicking onto the newspapers online marketing advertisement to sell subscription to the Gazette brought out several more companies including Auditude.com and CNPapers.com (Charleston Newspaper Corporate Site). Checking the Classified link the Collusion graph quickly exploded to show a total now of 45 total companies gaining access to our IP address and other personal information available.

There is nothing openly visible on the newspaper website notifying or stating third- trackers could be gathering your information. We did fine one notice that only became visible on a "ZOOSK" online dating advertisement. But only after clicking on that link is there a warning of possible 3rd party monitoring.

WCHS TV Charleston WV

When we first accessed the front page of WCHS TV’s website, only 4 trackers appeared. Doubleclick.net, Sbgnet.com, Google.com and Doclix.com. Clicking onto their June 3, 2012 main story on the arrest of a beating suspect only added one new third-party company, Twitter.com. The weather linked opened up 3 more trackers, Wxc.com, and Scorecardresearch.com and 2o7.net.

Then, opening up a story link on President Obama exposed another 4 companies having access to our information including, Politicker.com, Pointroll.com, Disqus.com and Quantserve.com. ‘Politicker’ is the politics-focused website of the New York Observer. Finally, clicking onto a news story about Senator Harry Reid and illegal immigration more than quadrupled the total number of trackers digesting our online information.

There is nothing openly visible on WCHS’s website notifying or stating third-party trackers could be gathering your information.

C&O Motors St Albans WV

This automobile sales company in one of, if not the largest in West Virginia. Located in Saint Albans, they have approximately 6 dealerships ranging from Chevrolet to Lexus. Accessing their main website only exposed 3 outside companies obtaining info from their mainpage. Google.com, Cobaltgroup.com and Admission.net. Choosing to enter the Chevrolet dealership website linked out information to an additional 14-web company sites. Including Rubiconproject.com, Bluekai.com, AFY11.net, 2o7.net, Yieldmanager.com, Pubmatic.com and ATDMT.com.

Entering the Lexus section of C&O Motors raised the number to 25 companies accessing and or receiving our information. By the time we accessed all 6 dealerships, 74 third-party companies were involved. After you've visited about four or five sites, the graph tends to get really confusing and it's hard to tell which advertisers are connected with which sites. To cut down on the confusion just hover over any of the sites you've visited and Collusion will highlight only the cookies connected with that site.

There is nothing openly visible on C&O’s website notifying or stating third-party trackers could be gathering your information.

In closing

Companies with the most third-party trackers are selling a service and or product to the public. Basic utility companies we searched only had 2 to 3 tracking companies while cell phone providers like Verizon, AT&T and Sprint had an average of 23. The New York Times newspaper produced 77 third-party companies after clicking onto several advertisements on their website while the Washington Times produced 48.

To be fair, we also used the Collusion program on our own news blog website at WVNewsonline.com & WestVirginiaNews.blogspot.com. On both websites there were only 2 tracking companies listed. One was Blogger.com and the other Blogspot.com. Both are the companies who provide our Internet websites. But keep in mind, we have no advertising or sales on our websites and we have declined offers from third-party trackers and advertising companies asking to do so.

Most Americans are now on the Internet for one reason or another. Also, most are not aware of the backdoor tracking by these ghost companies who are gathering information as you are online visiting different websites. They have obtained permission from the primary website operator (Charleston Newspaper, WCHS and C&O) to gather your information. We could not confirm whether these trackers pay a fee to the hosting companies to be able to obtain your information from that website.

Bottom line is this… If you're not paying for something and you're not the customer, then you're the product being sold.

End of Story…

Jack Swint-Publisher
West Virginia News
E-Mail: WestVirginiaNews@gmail.com
Website: http://WVNewsOnline.com
Blog: http://WestVirginiaNews.blogspot.com
Twitter: @WVNewsOnline
LinkedIn: Jack Swint

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Mozilla Collusion Program

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Charleston, WV, United States