My 1/24/10 Missoulian column
As I pointed out last week, you should be aware of the privacy implications of the information you put on social networking sites and consider the privacy policies of those sites and and how those polices can change. But companies gather lots of other information about you and your online habits, and you may not be aware of how they do it.
Ever wonder why you can login to an online store and the next day or week when you go back to that site it greets you by name? It’s not magic; what’s happened is the company’s Web site has stored what’s called a “cookie” on your hard drive.
Cookies are tiny bits of information that work with your Web browser and tell the company’s Web server when you were there last, your account information – if you set up an account – and some of what you did on the site.
Cookies are one of the main tools used by Web companies to identify users and their online habits. Cookies are convenient, because you don’t have to constantly log in to a site. But they have obvious privacy implications. Do you really want that company to store your account information for you? Or for anyone else using your PC? (You can delete Web cookies; more on this later.)
When you use a search engine and use a link that takes you away from the search site, the Web service tracks those clicks and keeps that information. Companies also keep records on what you search for even when you don’t click away from the results.
This leaves a staggering amount of information that can be used for advertising, marketing, demographic calculations and more. Some of it can be directly correlated to your search engine user account and the “Internet protocol” address of your PC.
And much of the information is retained for months or longer. After some pressure, Microsoft recently announced they would eliminate all data collected on Bing users after six months. After changes made last year, Google keeps data for nine months, while Yahoo is at three months. See this article at ArsTechnica: Microsoft to delete Bing users’ IP addresses after 6 months.
Next week: More on data retention.