Privacy Law

Beyond Big Brother: Some Web Hosts Are Watching Your Every Keystroke

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There’s a cost to that free content you probably enjoy on the Internet—a loss of privacy.

Web hosts are watching what you read, what you say, what you buy and where you go online, via cookies and other tracking tools that enable them to assemble—and sell—detailed profiles to other companies, reports the Wall Street Journal. Some even count keystrokes.

Advocates of the practice say the tracking is disclosed to users, and their data is kept anonymous.

But “some of the tracking files identified by the Journal were so detailed that they verged on being anonymous in name only,” the newspaper writes. “They enabled data-gathering companies to build personal profiles that could include age, gender, race, ZIP code, income, marital status and health concerns, along with recent purchases and favorite TV shows and movies.”

The practice of assembling detailed dossiers on consumers and selling them to advertisers “is a sea change in the way the industry works,” says Omar Tawakol, the man in charge of the BlueKai Inc. data exchange. “Advertisers want to buy access to people, not Web pages.” he explains in another Wall Street Journal article.

Related coverage: “Many Wince at Above the Law Blogger’s Chilling Account of Online ‘Stalk’”

Wall Street Journal: “How to Avoid the Prying Eyes “

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