A pair of German researchers have revealed just how easy it is to expose an individual’s online browsing habits, and trace it back to your personal computer.
Svea Eckert and Andreas Dewes made it their mission to show just how easy it is to access this sensitive information, and claim to have uncovered porn preferences of a high profile judge, details of a cyber-crime investigation, and a politician’s drug use, in the process.
As well as the data for three million German citizens, that allowed them to trace the ‘breadcrumb’ trail left across the web, according to the BBC.
This information is obtained through companies gathering ‘clickstreams’ - a digital record of your movements - that can be sold on to advertisers for targeted marketing purposes.
Although this usage is legal, the data is meant to be anonymised during the transaction so that companies cannot identify individuals, only their browsing behaviours, but Eckert and Dewes proved this is not happening.
Speaking to the BBC at the Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas this weekend, Eckert said: “What these companies are doing is illegal in Europe but they do not care.”
The sort of information they were able to view included links people shared via Twitter, YouTube videos they were watching, news articles read, or when they posted online photos of items they bought or places they were visiting.
In some cases the clickstreams were directly linked to people’s personal social media admin pages.
And to make matters worse, 95% of this data was pulled from just 10 popular browser extensions.
The pair have now deleted all of the sensitive data they had in their possession, as they were worried about being hacked themselves, but wanted to warn governments and individual users about the real threat being posed.