Internet giants plan to track users even more

While public unease with the National Security Agency’s surveillance efforts continues to grow, there are new signs indicating that technology companies are also upgrading their efforts to track what you’re doing on the Internet.

According to a new report by Wired, companies like Microsoft and
Google are developing increasingly sophisticated means of
collecting consumer data online. The goal is to harvest the new
data for advertising purposes, but, as noted in the article,
there’s always concern that the NSA could gain access to and use
the information for other purposes. NSA documents published by
the Guardian already suggest that the agency could use ad data
and cookies to help it find people who use the anonymous Tor

“Users did not have much control in the cookie era,”Marc
Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy
Information Center, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington,
said to Wired.“But the problem is about to get much worse –
tracking techniques will become more deeply embedded and a much
smaller number of companies will control advertising data.”

Microsoft, in particular, is reportedly developing new tracking
techniques that would be capable of recording when users
transition from the web to apps, and even between separate
devices, like PCs, tablets, phones, and video game consoles.
According to AdAge,Microsoft’s cookie replacement
would essentially be a device identifier, meaning consumers could
give permission for its advertising use when opting in to a
device’s regular user agreement or terms of service.”

Asking for permission via a terms of service agreement sounds
like a reasonable way of presenting the development to consumers,
but chances are that the vast majority of users would agree
simply because most services require it in order to function.

While the AdAge report notes that Microsoft’s system would only
be available to authorized third parties, reports have shown the
company working with the NSA to hand over consumer data in the
past. Files released by Edward Snowden through the Guardian
revealed that Microsoft helped the NSA work its way around the
company’s encryption, gain access to the cloud storage system
SkyDrive, and collect data accrued via Skype calls.

Additionally, even when the NSA has not been authorized to
collect data by Microsoft, the agency has circumvented the
company and collected it regardless.

When asked about its still-in-development tracking technology, a
Microsoft spokesperson simply said,“Microsoft believes going
beyond the cookie is important. Our priority will be to find ways
to do this that respect the interests of consumers. We have
nothing further to share.”

Whether or not anonymous systems like Tor will still be able to
protect users against these new techniques is a question that has
yet to be answered, but it’s apparent that Microsoft isn’t the
only company heading in this direction. Google is said to be
developing a similar system, and Facebook has already begun
tracking user behavior outside of the social network in order to
sell targeted ads.

Although consumers are more concerned with the NSA’s surveillance
program than being advertised to, recent outcry against
Microsoft’s Xbox One video game console show that many will fight
any new attempts to track their behavior. A separate AdAge report
suggested that Microsoft’s Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer
is open to using the new console’s Kinect camera to track user
engagement with advertising, including recording biometric
feedback such as heart rates, and releasing that data to

After receiving extremely harsh pushback from the public,
Microsoft denied the report altogether as a misunderstanding.
This much is clear, however: consumers are more concerned than
ever over their privacy, and rolling out new tracking techniques
could spark even more outrage.

Copyright: RT