Judge’s Porn Habits And Politician’s Medication Found In “Anonymous” Browsing Data

URLs from the research. Used with permission via Svea Eckert/Andreas Dewes

A rather unnerving piece of research has found that your private data while browsing online might not be that private, after finding out a judge’s porn preferences and the medication used by a German member of parliament (MP).

Two German researchers, journalist Svea Eckert and data scientist Andreas Dewes, found that companies that were paying for data were getting access to a lot of supposed anonymized data. They presented their findings at the Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, last weekend.

“How would you think we got it: some shady hacker?” Eckert said, reported The Guardian. “No. It was much easier: you can just buy it.”

The data was gathered using “clickstreams”. This is what some companies pay for in order to target adverts towards users. It was obtained by companies using 10 extensions for Google Chrome.

However, Eckert and Dewes found this data was readily available if someone paid for it, with little anonymity. They were able to get their hands on a database of 3 billion URLs from 3 million German users by simply creating a fake marketing campaign for an AI algorithm.

They made fake LinkedIn pages for the company and then called 100 companies asking for browsing data to test out their algorithm. Many were willing to turn over US and UK data, and one also provided German data spread over nine different sites.

This research is particularly relevant because earlier this year the Trump administration basically allowed Internet service providers (ISPs) to collect your private browsing history and sell it on. According to these two researchers, just 10 URLs could be used to identify someone.

"With only a few domains you can quickly drill down into the data to just a few users," said Dewes, reported BBC News. "It's very, very difficult to de-anonymise it even if you have the intention to do so."

Although their data gathering was purely for research purposes, the researchers note how this data could be easily obtained by anyone. The fact they were able to find out information relating to a judge and a German MP should make people a little uneasy.

Comments

If you liked this story, you'll love these

This website uses cookies

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By continuing to use our website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.