Thursday, 6 December 2012

It's not even illegal for advertising companies to hack your browser history


Here’s a joke: “Privacy”.
Laughing yet?
Seriously though, as if the legal violations of our online privacy weren’t bad enough, now it seems we need to contend with businesses literally hacking our information to make a few extra bucks.
The all-seeing eye of advertisers
Advertising network Epic Marketplace settled federal charges today that accused the company of illegally hacking website users’ browsers with a 10-year-old exploit that allowed them to view and cull information from users’ histories.
Let’s go ahead and take a moment to really appreciate how offensive this is. This is the same company that uses things like tracking cookies to follow everything you do anyway. This is also the kind of company that lobbied the federal government when Microsoft tried to disable tracking by default in their new browsers.
But here’s the best part. The settlement resulted in the Federal Trade Commission issuing an administrative complaint that requires the company to delete data obtained through this exploit and to “curb” further use of this method.
Um, what now?
If I break into your house and steal your TV, no court on the planet is going to ask me to “curb” this behavior in the future. They’re going to send my ass to prison. But I guess in this case they can’t do much because it’s not even illegal.
NOTE: The Commission issues an administrative complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the respondent has actually violated the law. A consent order is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by the respondent that the law has been violated. [FTC]

That’s right. Although the charges contend that the firm’s behavior was illegal, the settlement dodged any kind of legal position and resulted only in a slap on the wrist. This effectively means it’s not even illegal for a company to use a browser exploit to steal your personal information for their own gain.
This is the sad state of privacy legislation today. And this kind of behavior is hardly limited to the United States. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of taking your privacy and security into your own hands. At the very least, consider checking out a good VPN.

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