Sunday, December 12, 2010

With a Little “Sniffing” Can Marketers Tell Where You Have Been?

Imagine if you had a bar code on the top of your head that stores could scan as you walked through their doors allowing them to tell what others stores you had visited.  Sounds outrageous, but this is exactly what marketers are able to accomplish though “sniffing” online.

Forbes Kashmir Hill explains in her article The FTC Promises an End to History Sniffing (Microsoft, Take Note), how researchers found that some popular sites were taking advantage of a Javascript security flaw that allowed them to see what other sites their visitors had visited.  This flaw has sparked some law suits pushing browser companies to make corrections to their security software.  Chrome, Safari, and Mozilla have addressed this issue; however Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is still vulnerable to sniffing.  Is Microsoft’s dominant/monopoly position contributing to their inability to address the sniffing issue, or are they making financial gains by way of not addressing the security issue?

Per the FTC, self-regulation has not progressed at the pace policy makers would like, as such an onslaught of online privacy policies is looming.  The solution will need to involve both the policy makers and the industry because online technology is evolving far too quickly for policies or regulations to keep pace.  

Currently the “do not track” technology is on the table in congress.  This technology allows consumers to opt out of web tracking.  Will this technology provide the reasonable privacy to the consumer or will it impose too many burdens on the industry. Time will tell.

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