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NSA is piggybacking off private web tracking to ID and watch you, find targets

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 11th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The NSA is taking advantage of private tracking codes, known as cookies and set by advertisers, to keep track of individuals. That tracking includes precise physical geolocation among other things.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to the latest revelations as published by the Washington Post, the NSA is capable of tracking you and pinpointing your physical location based on your mobile phone use and internet browsing habits. The secret lies in the NSA using private, third-party tracking cookies to follow you.

Cookies are lines of code embedded in ads and on websites that tell businesses where you're going online. It helps them to determine what you're searching for and allows them to serve you advertisements that might be relevant to your present online activities.

For example, if  you search for pet supplies, you may find yourself being served advertisements for pet-related products.

This has made internet advertising quite lucrative for marketers and a source of revenue for businesses. However, those cookies can also be tracked and they can be used to identify a particular person. When paired with other data, particularly mobile phone data, the NSA can locate where a person is at in a given instant and confirm their identity.

The NSA says it uses this technology to identify terrorist threats and track them in real time.

The revelation comes as new slides and documents have been published by the Washington Post to highlight the program's existence.

Consumers have balked for a few years now about companies setting tracking cookies on visitor's machines to learn more about individual browsing and spending habits. Privacy advocates have particularly bristled at the fact that these cookies are installed without user permission of knowledge.

Companies such as Google point out that such tracking allows them to serve relevant ads to consumers which also enables them to provide other services, such as free email.

However, the NSA is capable of filing requests for information with companies like Google, who are obliged to cooperate. In that process the NSA gets cookie and tracking information intended for marketing purposes to use for their own ends.

Other information published by the Washington Post reveals how the agency can tap into geolocation services used by smartphone apps to pinpoint an individual's location.

Even apps which do not need geolocation services will collect it anyway to sell to third parties. Geolocation services are obviously needed for mapping programs, but marketers use the data to serve ads for businesses that are nearby a potential customer.

The NSA can use this same data to pinpoint a person's position and to track their movements.

This revelation may  cause firms to reevaluate how they collect and use the data of the people they rely upon for business.

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