Your web browser’s Incognito Mode won’t save you from the Google and Facebook trackers found lurking within more than 20,000 porn websites, according to a new study undertaken by Microsoft, among others.
The study, which will alarm smut fans everywhere, found that 93% of the 22,484 sites scanned send traffic data to an average of thirty-seven third-party domains. Most of that data was transmitted to outside firms via tracking cookies on the pages visited.
Alarmingly, 74% of the sites scanned featured Google (or a subsidiary) trackers, while Facebook had trackers on a mere 10% of trackers by comparison. Ironic, considering Facebook doesn’t even allow pornographic content of any kind.
While the presence of the big boys is worrying to say the least, it’s the final destinations of the data that might be more of a concern to those visiting online porn sites. According to the study, in the wrong hands, the data could be used to blackmail and discriminate against people in marginalised groups.
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So, if you have a certain kink for instance, and you’re identified via other online sources, you might be in danger, according to the authors. They said specific sites are already being targeted by the trackers. If the IP address could be reverse engineered, it could like the users to specific URLs, which often “expose or strongly suggest the site content.”
“Private access to online porn as important to a queer, feminist, sex-positive politics of gender and sexuality, and central to community-building and free and safe sexual expression,” the team said in the study (via New York Times).
“The extent to which gender and sexual interests could be inferred from site URLs demonstrates the troubling potential for the tracking and disciplining of sexual interests labeled non-normative.”
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The study, titled ‘Tracking sex: The implications of widespread sexual data leakage and tracking on porn websites’ was authored Dr. Elena Maris, a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft, Jennifer Henrichsen, pHD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, and Tim Libert, a Carnegie Mellon computer science instructor.
“The fact that the mechanism for adult site tracking is so similar to, say, online retail should be a huge red flag,” Dr. Maris said. “This isn’t picking out a sweater and seeing it follow you across the web. This is so much more specific and deeply personal.”