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Web Bugs - Tracking your every move
by Luc Vezina

This past June, the state of Michigan charged four Web sites of not disclosing in their privacy policies the practice of profiling using "Web bugs". The state attorney general's office served,, and with "notices of intended action," alleging that they were in violation of the state's Consumer Protection Act.

Web bugs are invisible one-pixel by one-pixel images that are served by an advertising network such as DoubleClick to "covertly shadow" a user's activity on a given page. Bugs are often used on pages that do not contain banners but act like banners in that they allow the ad network to read and write cookies to the user's computer as well as log information such as IP, referrer, browser, etc.

For example, by examining the HTML source code of Procrit's home page (, a drug manufacturer, we can see that the following image is being inserted by DoubleClick: <IMG SRC=";src=64526;type=views1;cat=home;ord =[ Time]?" WIDTH=1 HEIGHT=1 BORDER=0>
This allows DoubleClick to modify one of the cookies that it has written to a computer to include information that the user has also visited the site of an HIV-related drug manufacturer.

Web bugs allow profilers to build even more detailed databases because bugs can be placed on pages that don't contain banners and even in HTML e-mail. If DoubleClick ever merges its online database with the Abacus database, it will have a very precise log of over 100 million North Americans' surfing habits right at its fingertips.

Web bugs are used on many sites including FedEx, Quicken and several Johnson & Johnson sites. The best protection against the bugs is to manage your cookies using the Cookie Jar in Freedom. You can select, block all cookies or simply delete those that are written by ad networks such as DoubleClick.

For more information on Web bugs, see Richard Smith's Web bugs FAQ:

------------ Privacy News ------------

-> MI5 builds new centre to read e-mails on the net - The Sunday Times

"The MI5 is building a new �25m e-mail surveillance centre that will have the power to monitor all e-mails and internet messages sent and received in Britain."

-> Enonymous Ratings Questioned - Wired

" was something of a surprise for Rotenberg to learn the site received only two of a possible four stars from enonymous, a San Diego company that published what it billed as a 'comprehensive' privacy survey on Tuesday",1294,35587,00.html

-> DeBeers' Security Hole Reveals Customer Info -

"About 35,000 customer email and home addresses were exposed on, an informational site about diamonds sponsored by De Beers, CNET has learned"

-> Privacy-loving space aliens put the smack down on SETI ;-)

"A SETI radio telescope has been destroyed and scientists fear that space aliens may be responsible, the Weekly World News reports."

-> Chinese Gov't Arrests Head of Human Rights Website - eMarketer

-> Drug Office Ends Tracking of Web Users


-> Software that can spy on you - Why did Mattel include technology that can encrypt and send data to and from your PC in its children's CD-ROMs?

-> AOL Instant Messenger hacked

The stolen AIM identity allows strangers to masquerade as others and even invade their personal lives: "Some hackers pretend they are the victim, and carry on conversations with the person's friends," says the self-described hacker who demonstrated the technique. He tells of one prankster who used the account of a teenage girl to trade messages with her mother -- and pilfer a credit-card number.;=110

-> AOL-Time Warner: What it Will Know About You

The proposed $140.9 billion merger between America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc. could create one of the largest databases ever, teeming with juicy information about individual tastes in books, music, magazines, as well as hobbies.

Marketers already are salivating about how the companies could combine their data and use it to send targeted advertisements and promotions...,4586,2422412,00.html?chkpt=zdnntop

-> 300,000 credit card numbers hijacked

Because the company, CD Universe, has refused to pay [the US$100,000] blackmail, the anonymous intruder has released some of the credit card files on the Internet. He also claims to have used some other credit card numbers to obtain money for himself.

-> Congress faces cyber-agenda

The Big Kahuna issue of the year will be the balance between individuals' right to privacy and the ability of online companies and organizations to harvest, organize and sell information concerning users' Internet surfing habits.,4164,2422763,00.html

-> Free ISPs on the way out

A nationwide poll of 403 Internet users contained the following question: 'In exchange for free Internet access, would you be willing to provide very detailed personal and behavioral information that your access provider could possibly sell to other retailers?' A striking 84 percent said that they would not...

-> China registering businesses to monitor Net

"This is for safety," said an official of the Huangpu district branch of the Public Security Bureau. "In order to inspect the Internet, we must control it."

PacketStorm Security Site

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