User Privacy and the Evolution of Third-Party Tracking Mechanisms on the World Wide Web
45 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2012
Date Written: May 18, 2010
Third-party tracking refers to tracking done by websites that a user never navigates to explicitly. Many Internet users are vaguely aware that their information may be collected online. However, data suggests there is relatively little knowledge about third-party tracking and its associated privacy risks. The FoxTracks software tool attempts to address this lack of knowledge about third-party online tracking for the benefit of interested users with varying levels of technical knowledge. FoxTracks is a Firefox add-on program that browses the web along with the user and collects information about three types of trackers that may be monitoring the user: HTTP cookies, Local Shared Flash Objects, and DOM Storage entries. The interface to FoxTracks displays the user’s information as it has been collected by the trackers; the highly personalized view of third-party tracking is uniquely accessible and informative for end-users. Beyond the development of FoxTracks, the analysis presented in this thesis discusses the history, key players, and motivations of third-party tracking, and how each influenced the design choices made in the software. In particular, the motivations of third-party entities, who are frequently online advertisers, are examined in at length. A computer security rubric is then applied to the behavior and tracking methodologies of third parties in order to show their adversarial qualities in matters of user privacy.
Keywords: Privacy, Tracking, Third-party tracking, Cookies, Flash Objects, DOM Storage, Education
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