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Google, Facebook Secretly Tracking Your Porn-viewing Habits

“While the findings of this study are far from encouraging, we do believe regulatory intervention may have positive outcomes,” said the researchers

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The Google name is displayed outside the company's office in London, Britain. VOA

If you think watching pornographic material in the “incognito” mode will not let anyone know, you are mistaken. Google, Facebook and even Oracle cloud are secretly tracking the porn you watch even when you switch on the “incognito” mode on your laptop or smartphone.

A new joint study from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pennsylvania that investigated 22,484 sex websites using a tool called “webXray” revealed that 93 per cent of pages track and leak users’ data to third-party organisations.

“Tracking on these sites is highly concentrated by a handful of major companies,” said the researchers who identified 230 different companies and services tracking users in their sample.

Of non-pornography-specific services, Google tracks 74 per cent of sites, Oracle 24 per cent and Facebook 10 per cent.

Porn-specific trackers in the top 10 are exoClick (40 per cent), JuicyAds (11 per cent), and EroAdvertising (9 per cent).

“The majority of non-pornography companies in the top 10 are based in the US, while the majority of pornography-specific companies are based in Europe,” said the study.

The researchers – Elena Maris, Microsoft Research; Timothy Libert, Carnegie Mellon University; and Jennifer Henrichsen, University of Pennsylvania – said they successfully extracted privacy policies for 3,856 sites, 17 per cent of the total.

“The policies were written such that one might need a two-year college education to understand them. The content analysis indicated 44.97 per cent of them expose or suggest a specific gender/sexual identity or interest likely to be linked to the user,” said the study to be published in the journal New Media & Society.

The team created a hypothetical profile named “Jack” who decides to view porn on his laptop.

Corporate, America, Climate Change
FILE – In this April 30, 2019, file photo, Facebook stickers are laid out on a table at F8, Facebook’s developer conference in San Jose, Calif. The Boston-based renewable energy developer Longroad Energy announced in May that Facebook is building a… VOA

Jack enables “incognito” mode in his browser, assuming his actions are now private. He pulls up a site and scrolls past a small link to a privacy policy. Assuming a site with a privacy policy will protect his personal information, Jack clicks on a video.

“What Jack does not know is that incognito mode only ensures his browsing history is not stored on his computer. The sites he visits, as well as any third-party trackers, may observe and record his online actions,” the researchers noted.

These third-parties may even infer Jack’s sexual interests from the URLs of the sites he accesses. They might also use what they have decided about these interests for marketing or building a consumer profile. They may even sell the data.

Jack has no idea these third-party data transfers are occurring as he browses videos.

“His assumption that porn websites will protect his information, along with the reassurance of the ‘incognito’ mode icon on his screen, provide Jack a fundamentally misleading sense of privacy as he consumes porn online,” wrote the researchers.

The above hypothetical scenario occurs frequently in reality and is indicative of the widespread data leakage and tracking that can occur on porn sites, they added.

Also Read: Instagram to Now Alert Violators Before Deleting Accounts

In 2017, Pornhub, one of the largest porn websites, received 28.5 billion visits, with users performing 50,000 searches per second on the site.

Statistics vary as to the amount of overall porn activity on the internet, but a 2017 report indicated porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined, and that “30 per cent of all the data transferred across the Internet is porn”, with site YouPorn using six times more bandwidth than Hulu.

“While the findings of this study are far from encouraging, we do believe regulatory intervention may have positive outcomes,” said the researchers. (IANS)

Next Story

Facebook Loses its Place in Glassdoor’s ‘Best Places to Work’ List

The Top-100 list by Glassdoor is for large organisations or those with at least 1,000 employees. It bases its rankings on eight factors, including work/life balance, compensation and benefits and senior management, among others

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Social Media, Facebook, Authenticity, Posts
The social media application, Facebook is displayed on Apple's App Store, July 30, 2019. VOA

Mired in several controversies amid break-up calls from the US lawmakers, Facebook has once again slipped off Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work” list for a second year in a row.

Facebook dropped to 23rd best place to work, falling 16 spots from last year’s position, and its award score fell from a 4.5 to 4.4 out of a perfect 5, according to the annual listing by the leading job website.

The top three spots are occupied by leading growth platform HubSpot, management consultancy firm Bain & Company and market leader in electronic signatures DocuSign, respectively.

Among the tech companies, Google is at 11th spot, LinkedIn at 12th, Microsoft at 21st, Salesforce at 34th, VMware at 36th, Adobe at 39th, Cisco at 77th, Accenture at 83th and Apple at 84th (the Cupertino-based iPhone maker slipped 13 spots from the last year’s list).

Amazon once again failed to enter the list of 100.

For Facebook, 2019 has been bad on the diplomatic front. Several US Senators have called for breaking up the social network amid repeated data breaches and privacy violations on the platform.

Facebook
Facebook has failed to comply with the subpoenas for more information related to the ongoing privacy investigation into its alleged privacy violations and Cambridge Analytica, the media has reported. Pixabay

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris has stressed that authorities should take a serious look at breaking up Facebook as the social network platform is a “utility that has gone unregulated”.

Another Democratic 2020 candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren has also stressed upon the possibility of breaking up Facebook.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, however, rejected these calls, saying the size of the social media giant was actually a benefit to its users and the security of the democratic process.

Zuckerberg has promised his employees to “fight and win” if Democratic presidential hopeful Warren wins the 2020 election and moves forward with her stated plan to break up the big US tech firms.

Also Read: Here’s What India’s Privacy Bill Requires from Social Media Firms

The company in July agreed to pay record-breaking $5 billion to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as fine for users’ privacy violations in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal involving millions of users.

The US FTC is also investigating Facebook for potential monopolistic practices.

The Top-100 list by Glassdoor is for large organisations or those with at least 1,000 employees. It bases its rankings on eight factors, including work/life balance, compensation and benefits and senior management, among others. (IANS)