Digital Fingerprinting On the Internet

It may surprise you to know that every time you log onto the internet... you're being watched.

Companies track every website you visit and collect information on what you look at online.

All this personal information makes up our "digital fingerprints."

And as Chad Myers tells us, that data could be an enticing treasure trove for malicious hackers.

Did you know that companies you never heard of track every website you visit and keep a record of everything you do online?

That's right, everybody who visits the internet has a digital fingerprint, a unique profile that is built by these specialized companies.

"We actually don't really know who their clients are. So, they may be selling this technology to banks, they may be selling it to on-line advertising companies, and that's the bigger concern."

Peter Eckersley is a technologist with the electronic frontier foundation-- a digital civil liberties group that defends people's rights on the internet.

He says digital fingerprinting is a violation of every aspect of your privacy.

"You should have the right to read what you want in private without someone looking over your shoulder reading along with you. As you pick up a magazine to read it, you don't want the magazine reading you."
"Last march, Senator John Rockefeller introduced a bill to stop companies from tracking your online movements-- part of recommendations from the federal trade commission. What it would require is that internet browsers would have an option up here to day, 'do not track.. Do not track me.' Eckersley says this is already there. The technology already exists. All we need is congressional action."

"I think the scary thing is people don't understand what is out there about them, personally, that's linked the online digital fingerprint."

Don Jackson, the director of threat intelligence for secure works, says digital fingerprints are used for personalizing marketing and advertising campaigns and customized political messages. But he says there's also the danger they will be used with malicious intent.

"What we're doing is trusting these companies with the security of that information. We're entrusting them to guard that information, we don't want anybody to be able to break into the system and use it, but, unfortunately, when companies aggregate all that information in one spot, it makes them a target for hackers."

(Reporter): "What if I am at a wireless place like this, and people are just everywhere and everybody's logged in? Can they be... can that guy right there be tracked?"

"Absolutely."

(Reporter): "Really?"

"He is being tracked right now, so everything you do is online.... if you're using a public website or any kind of online service, they're tracking everything you're doing."

(Reporter): "Can data be wrong? Can people get something incorrect and is it a big deal."

"Yes. So, your fingerprint can be manipulated by a criminal, that’s just one way it can be wrong. Another way it can be wrong is that it's been cross-linked.

There's really no mechanism to correct that so you can't remove the information.

There's, currently, no channel, no way to file a complaint.

Security experts are concerned that right now there is no practical way to stop companies from using this technology. And that as scary as it is-- the best defense is to be aware that everything you do online is being watched.

"Keep your anti-virus up to date, keep your computer up to date, but, for the most part, once the information leaves your computer, at least one person, that's the website that you are visiting, can track it. "


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