Big Tech Companies Could Be Snooping On Your Porn Use

 Sam Kresslein/Shutterstock

New research suggests that the tech giants of Silicon Valley, like Google and Facebook, might be keeping tabs on your pornographic surfings around the internet. Not even “Incognito” mode can stop their snooping.

The analysis was recently carried out by Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Pennsylvania and is published on the pre-print server arXiv.

Their study scanned almost 22,500 of the internet's most frequented pornography websites and found that 93 percent of them were sending data to third parties who were tracking users' web browsing. According to the new study, the tracking on these adult websites is “highly concentrated by a handful of major companies,” including Facebook and Google (as well as its subsidiary companies like DoubleClick). 

Nearly 45 percent of the website domains in the sample also suggested a specific sexual identity or interest likely to be linked to the user. Given the intimate nature of sexual preferences, the researchers argue this could put some people at risk. For example, this information could potentially be used against someone living in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

“Everyone is at risk when such data is accessible without users’ consent, and thus can potentially be leveraged against them,” write the authors. 

“These risks are heightened for vulnerable populations whose porn usage might be classified as non-normative or contrary to their public life.”

Furthermore, just 17 percent of the sites were encrypted, leaving them open to hacking and data breaches. The researchers also found that 17 percent of the 22,484 sites scanned had an accessible privacy policy that explained these terms and conditions. Among this small selection of privacy policies, the language was found to be technical and full of jargon. In the words of the study authors, "the policies were written such that one might need a two-year college education to understand them."

Internet users are often tracked using cookies, little pieces of information downloaded by your web browser when you interact with a site. Most of the time, it's not possible to identify a person using cookies and they simply help to keep tabs on your settings, such as whether you're logged into a site or, for example, the contents of your virtual shopping cart. Cookies also contain information about the adverts you see and can be used by others to understand who is interacting with specific ads. However, in regards to this new research, it remains unclear what these companies are actually using the information for. 

Facebook and Google have denied any untoward motive behind the tracking, both claiming that the data is not used to build advertising profiles.

“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 spokesperson wrote in a statement to The New York Times.

"We don't want adult websites using our business tools since that type of content is a violation of our Community Standards,” a Facebook spokesperson said in their statement to CNET. “When we learn that these types of sites or apps use our tools, we enforce against them.”

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.