This week in review: Cyber Monday sales and scams, the European Plan and the science behind tracking
By Don Dobson
In our weekly roundup, we draw your attention to selected news and articles that highlight issues relating to invasions of your online privacy and threats to the security of your personal data, including problems that Dodoname can help solve. Catching our attention this week were posts on Cyber Monday, ongoing privacy debates, including in Europe and the science behind who is tracking you. For all our privacy, security and personal data related posts follow @MyDodoname on Twitter.
Cyber Monday – sales and scams
Although figures vary quite widely depending on the source, a considerable fury of online sales was unleashed this week on Cyber Monday. ComScore reported U.S. sales of over $2 billion, a 17 percent increase over last year’s Cyber Monday, making this the “heaviest U.S. online spending day in history.” Predictably, this rush of e-commerce also captured the full attention of online bad actors. Researchers had already observed a “sharp increase” in phishing and spam activities against online shoppers and expect more to come into the holiday season. In a Politico article called “Hack Friday: Black Friday cybercrime is unstoppable,” Jay Healey, a former White House and financial sector official notes “Hunters are more likely to be out when there’s more prey to be hunted.” Bolstering that idea, reports on a study from security firm Imperva shows nearly half of all web application cyber-attacks target retailers. “This is largely due to the data that retail websites store – customer names, addresses, credit card details – which cyber criminals can use and sell in the cybercrime underworld,” said Amichai Shulman, chief technology officer at Imperva.
While email is still the prime vector for phishing, we were also reminded that social media is not immune to these threats riding the wave of a major online event such as Cyber Monday. Fake social media messages on platforms like Facebook attempted to hook unsuspecting shoppers looking for deals and discounts.
Of course, we continue to monitor news and debates around how companies use your data to track your online activities for various advertising and marketing purposes. Indeed, providing a way to have both privacy and personalization is the raison d’être behind Dodoname. It’s fascinating to see the general public slowly becoming aware of the extent to which we are tracked. Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, the Chief Marketing Officer of BitTorrent, notes recent Pew research, saying it “overwhelmingly showed the burgeoning distrust users have harbored in putting their private information online.” His article, Why privacy is like the frog in the pot of boiling water, is descriptive of what has happened to all of us. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water that is slowly increasing in temperature, we’ve paid little notice to the tracking and erosion of privacy. With the Pew study showing that ninety percent of adults agree that we’ve lost control of our personal data, the temperature is going to start to rise for business as well.
One way the market is responding to consumer concerns is through offers like Dodoname where privacy, rather than tracking, is central to the value proposition. Another prominent example is DuckDuckGo, a search engine that puts privacy first, rather than collecting data. Gabriel Weinberg founder of the company, speaking about privacy-based products in a Guardian Article notes “I don’t think it’s a fad. One of the big things people have noticed in the last year is the ads that follow them around the Internet and that’s perhaps the most visible notion of this new tracking mindset that most companies are adopting. Those trends are not disappearing. More tracking on the Internet, more surveillance, so I think as people find out about it they’re going to be wanting to opt out in some percentage.”
The European Plan
The European Union is ahead of North America in many regards concerning privacy, including evolving regulations concerning cookie use. We’ve previously reported on so-called super cookies and device fingerprinting used to track consumers across devices, including smartphones. A Guardian article this week Europe’s next privacy war is with websites silently tracking users, notes regulators have made it clear that companies cannot bypass cookies consent by using covert methods to track users through their devices. In the article, Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group says “Building profiles to deliver personalised content and adverts clearly falls under e-privacy and data protection law.” This regulator opinion on device fingerprinting techniques seems to pave the way for developing new legislation to govern their use and protect user privacy.
The science behind tracking you
The science behind tracking and the answer as to why techniques that track users across devices are being pursued by companies on both side of the Atlantic can be found in a MIT Technology Review article we shared this week: New Technology for Tracking Consumers Across Devices Grows Results.
Companies like Adometry are using probabilistic identification methods, to link smartphones to desktops accurately enough to justify ad placements. Drawbridge, of San Mateo, California, says it can “take anonymous signals from the device and do a kind of statistical space-time triangulation.” By performing the analysis over time, Drawbridge identifies clusters of devices and then figures out which are paired, providing confidence that they have the same user. The results provide marketers with data that is accurate enough for retargeting and attribution.
Still, we are just at the beginning of what marketers would like tracking to accomplish. As various vendors build their own technology and tech companies like Apple or Google seek dominance of their own proprietary methods, Adometry CEO, Casey Carey offers the opinion that Marketers need a new system to track customers across platforms.