Your Devices Are Whispering – and you can’t hear them

Occasionally, VERY occasionally, I visit the subject of digital freedom and privacy, a topic of interest to we enjoyers of internet carnality.

Today’s post explores the latest variation of tracking – how “they” watch and use our habits and visits and clicks from our email and web site views, and build databases and profiles of us to sell us their stuff.

I wrote before about Locally Shared Objects, (LSOs), also known colloquially as “flash cookies” or “supercookies,” which can remain on a computer even if a user tells his or her browser to delete all
cookies. More on that HERE . And that’s not just on desktops; just for one example, did you know that Verizon’s supercookies (also known as zombiecookies) – a snippet of code injected into mobile users’ web requests — silently identify and track its customers, sharing the information with AOL’s wide-reaching ad network?

Additionally, websites and email marketers can use a so-called “web beacon”, one pixel by one pixel transparent images that are served from URLs that are unique to each user to track who has visited a webpage or viewed an email. More on that HERE .

If only all our Locally Shared Objects were this delectable

If only all our Locally Shared Objects were this delectable

But now the ingenious fiends have concocted a new creepy way to track us. You see one of the biggest problems for these tracking businesses is something called the “multi-device problem.”

You probably use a handful of Internet-enabled devices: A desktop computer or two, a smartphone, a tablet, etc. For internet-based companies to get a full sense of your buying habits, they’ve got to figure out how to relate all those devices to the same person. And here’s the plan: more than a dozen marketing companies have recently started using inaudible audio signals to communicate between your devices.

Here’s how it works… If you visit a website that’s using this technology, it puts a cookie on your computer. This code then plays an “audio beacon” through your speakers that you can’t hear. It’s silent, like a dog whistle. But the beacon transmits information that your other devices can pick up. These beacons can communicate between a smartphone, desktop computer, or tablet and figure out that they all belong to you. More HERE.The industry leader of cross device tracking using audio beacons is SilverPush, which is used by at least 6-7 apps and installed on 18 million smartphones. Other companies are known as Drawbridge and Flurry.

Even some television commercials broadcast these noises so the companies can determine what you watch. Certain TV commercials include an ultrasonic audio beacon. Any nearby devices running SilverPush software will be listening for the beacon—if a device hears it, it records the match, allowing the company to figure out what ads users watch and for how long, and add that information to the user’s profile. Again thanks to SilverPush. This technology is not disclosed to users and cannot be turned off.

These companies should be required to disclose what they are doing and the data they collect from users. At least then, consumers would be aware of which companies are gathering this kind of information.

And a note to retailers: If you play a little more honestly and clean up your advertising, your business will get better returns. If the products you put out continue to ruin the experience of using the Internet, you’ll end up in a never-ending war with ad blockers. The number of people using ad-blocking technology has risen dramatically. Currently 198 million Internet users worldwide have software that blocks ads, according to a survey from Adobe and PageFair.

Though no one really likes to sit through commercials, that’s not the problem on the Internet. The problem comes from bad technology and privacy intrusions.

Junky computer code that displays ads on websites causes pages to load slowly and can crash your computer. Few people are comfortable with the undisclosed tracking like these new audio beacons (and, as of right now, ad blocking doesn’t block audio beacons). In a survey of those who block ads – the same survey we mentioned above – 71% of those who use ad-blocking said they don’t mind advertisements, they just don’t like obtrusive and bad ads.

Check out which ad blockers exist for your browser. Many of them are free and work quite well. Common blockers include AdBlock, DoNotTrackMe, and Ghostery. I use Ghostery (no affiliate relationship BTW.)

Our online privacy is apparently an endless work in process, so take a few minutes to keep the ways you are tracked online to a minimum. Run a search periodically for “blocking audio beacons” and keep an eye out for defeating tools.

Wait…….what was that little noise?


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