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Facebook and Google found tracking users on porn websites; even in incognito mode

Facebook and Google say they don't allow sex websites to use their advertising tools but researchers have found data leaking to these tech platforms, thus raising serious concerns.

  • Published: July 19, 2019 1:06 PM IST
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Facebook and Google track every step of their users online, but that’s not all that they track. A study shows that Facebook, Google and Oracle also track what porn you watch online. Researchers from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pennsylvania used a tool called webXray to analyze 22,484 pornography sites. The tool can identify tracking tools that feed data back to third parties.

“Our results indicate tracking is endemic on pornography websites: 93 percent of pages leak user data to athird-party,” the researchers conclude in their paper. The study, first spotted by NYT, details trackers used by Google, Facebook and Oracle. The research shows that Google or its subsidiaries had trackers on 74 percent of the sites scanned in March 2018. Oracle and Facebook had their trackers on 24 percent and 10 percent sites respectively. In other words, Google trackers were found on roughly 16,638 sites. Oracle and Facebook trackers, on the other hand, were on 5,396 and 2,248 sites respectively.

The scariest part is the revelation that these trackers worked even in “incognito” mode. While users’ actions are not stored in their history in incognito mode, the data is still sent out to third parties. The researchers warn that leak of such highly sensitive data should be a cause for concern. The study also found that only 17 percent of the porn sites were encrypted and most left users vulnerable to hackers. “The fact that the mechanism for adult site tracking is so similar to, say, online retail should be a huge red flag,” researcher Elena Maris told NYT.

Trackers planted on websites is not new by any means and they even serve a purpose. Google Analytics feeds traffic data back to websites while Facebook allows sites to embed it’s “like” button. Facebook and Google claim they do not use the information collected from porn site visitors to build their marketing profiles. Facebook spokesperson told The Times that it bans sex websites from using tracking tools for business purposes.

“We don’t allow Google Ads on websites with adult content and we prohibit personalized advertising and advertising profiles based on a user’s sexual interests or related activities online. Additionally, tags for our ad services are never allowed to transmit personally identifiable information to Google,” a Google spokesman told Business Insider.

  • Published Date: July 19, 2019 1:06 PM IST