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NSA Uses Google Cookies To Pinpoint Targets For Hacking

Soulskill posted about 4 months ago | from the another-day-another-way-to-spy-on-us dept.

Government 174

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "For years, privacy advocates have raised concerns about the use of commercial tracking tools to identify and target consumers with advertisements. The online ad industry has said its practices are innocuous and benefit consumers by serving them ads that are more likely to be of interest to them. Now the Washington Post reports that the NSA secretly piggybacks on the tools that enable Internet advertisers to track consumers, using 'cookies' and location data to pinpoint targets for government hacking and to bolster surveillance. The agency uses a part of a Google-specific tracking mechanism known as the 'PREF' cookie to single out an individual's communications among the sea of Internet data in order to send out software that can hack that person's computer. 'On a macro level, "we need to track everyone everywhere for advertising" translates into "the government being able to track everyone everywhere,"' says Chris Hoofnagle. 'It's hard to avoid.' Documents reviewed by the Post indicate cookie information is among the data NSA can obtain with a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act order. Google declined to comment for the article, but chief executive Larry Page joined the leaders of other technology companies earlier this week in calling for an end to bulk collection of user data and for new limits on court-approved surveillance requests."

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174 comments

Now 2 good reasons not to allow cookie tracking (5, Insightful)

mrspoonsi (2955715) | about 4 months ago | (#45658909)

The EU is right on this one...

Re:Now 2 good reasons not to allow cookie tracking (5, Interesting)

erikkemperman (252014) | about 4 months ago | (#45659005)

The EU is right on this one...

I'm not so sure about that. I am afraid this is one of those deals where the compromise (require the user be presented with an opt-out) turns out to be worse than either of the proposed "pure" alternatives (do not regulate tracking at all, vs disallow all tracking, period).

Because what happens is a site says: either allow my cookies or I will not, or not fully, serve you. And because the average user is basically an idiot -- as is true for any large group of people, and in many instances of course it includes myself -- they go for it.

Tracking not reduced for all a but a tiny minority of paranoids and actual baddies, and the ad companies can now say they do it with user's consent.

This PREF cookie is an especially nasty piece of work, seeing how it rides on the very Safe Browsing system that Google "generously" facilitates to protect against online malware. Check the link in TFS.

Re:Now 2 good reasons not to allow cookie tracking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659093)

This PREF cookie is an especially nasty piece of work, seeing how it rides on the very Safe Browsing system that Google "generously" facilitates to protect against online malware. Check the link in TFS.

That's it! All Firefox users should disable browser.safebrowsing.enabled on about:config... unless this whole story is a trick to get us to disable safe browsing to make us easier to hack... I'm so confused!

Re:Now 2 good reasons not to allow cookie tracking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659181)

They should do this also if they value their HDD's integrity. When Firefox upgrades those databases it leads to an unsavory amount of disk access because apparently operations can't be done in memory, and have to be flashed to disk and read back a million times.

Re:Now 2 good reasons not to allow cookie tracking (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659201)

It's actually worse. I run Firefox with Cookie Monster, so I already block cookies. That used to work fine, but now I find myself having to accept cookies just to get rid of the stupid 'we use cookies!' banners.

Re:Now 2 good reasons not to allow cookie tracking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659227)

Funny post, but those banners are ignoreable just like ads.

Re:Now 2 good reasons not to allow cookie tracking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659589)

Try Self-Destructing Cookies [mozilla.org] . It doesn't give you those problems, and there's basically nothing to using it. You can even install it on the browsers of non-technical family and friends.

Keywords: Tracking can NOT be eliminated (5, Interesting)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 4 months ago | (#45659283)

... Tracking not reduced for all a but a tiny minority of paranoids and actual baddies ...

We do need to understand this --- tracking can NOT be totally eliminated.

Cookie tracking is but one of the various ways they use to track us. The report @ http://truththeory.com/2013/12/10/how-to-see-what-government-agency-is-spying-on-your-phone/ [truththeory.com] tells us about another way (they hack the prepaid phones and track the unique IPs).

No matter if you are an idiot or a tin-foil hatter, you gotta understand that there is only so much you can do.

The world we live in a FREE WORLD for the Big Brothers (commercial or otherwise) to do whatever they want with us.

Even if you only use cash / bitcoin to do purchases, they _still_ can find ways to "understand" you.

I may sound like a defeatist, I may sound as if I have given up. I am not.

I am a realist, though.

No matter what step (or steps) I take to minimize my exposure, they know who I am, where I am, with whom I am, my favorite watering hole, the usual kind of food I take, my regular schedule, and so on...

In one of my previous posts (some moons ago) I mentioned that we need to keep alert 24/7, and someone replied that if I keep on doing that I'm going to go bonker.

Perhaps I have already gone bonker, but then, that's what Big Brothers want anyway.

Re:Keywords: Tracking can NOT be eliminated (2)

ewieling (90662) | about 4 months ago | (#45659817)

Maybe the only way to win is to not play the game (at least as far as the internet and cellular is concerned). They can't track my internet usage if I don't use the internet, they can't track my location if I don't have a cell phone, they can't track my purchases if I use cash. I'm not ready to give up the convinces of modern technology yet, but each day I get closer. I have drastically reduced my trackable activity though. Eliminated almost all online shopping, eliminated almost all debit card usage, and leave my cell phone in one place most of the time and use my it far, far less. Never used social media web sites so no big loss there. Amazon has lost hundreds of dollars of my business. My bank and VISA have lost income from transaction processing fees because I don't use my debit card much anymore.

Re:Keywords: Tracking can NOT be eliminated (1)

dead_user (1989356) | about 4 months ago | (#45659911)

Hate to tell you this, but cash is serialized and can be easily tracked.

Re:Keywords: Tracking can NOT be eliminated (1)

ewieling (90662) | about 4 months ago | (#45660017)

Can you describe a method where some agency like the NSA might do bulk/automated tracking of cash *and* linking that cash back to an individual person and purchase?

Re:Now 2 good reasons not to allow cookie tracking (5, Interesting)

DarkOx (621550) | about 4 months ago | (#45659291)

The most sensible solution is to allow only sessions cookies. I know everyone loves their "keep me logged in button" but simple solution is to have browsers silently convert all cookie requests to session cookies no matter what the server or script asks for.

This should do be the default, as it breaks very few sites and existing web applications other than you have to logon every time. Users should have to manually go white list domains that are allowed persistent storage.

Browsers need to stop providing useragents, they need to start sending strings like
"traditional HTML 5.0 ready browser" or "touchscreen HTML 5.0 browser" instead.

The default behavior should be to only send a referer header when the request is to a page on the same domain as the one already being displayed.

As much as I hate to advocate it because its a waste of everyone's network resources, the same approach needs to be applied to document caching. There are to many possibilities for script based timing analysis attacks and server side request analysis that will enable tracking with the cache enabled.

Implement those changes and you will an WWW that still mostly works without alot of changes to existing sites but is decidedly less trackable.

Re:Now 2 good reasons not to allow cookie tracking (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659381)

Even if your session cookies are different once you start doing enough distinctive stuff (log in, unique search) they will know who you are and can track you.

Re:Now 2 good reasons not to allow cookie tracking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659423)

we had a solution to this 15 years ago. since we ourselves loved
to hack everything, we weren't confident that users wouldn't edit
their own cookies, and iirc there was some concern about proxies
over-caching, so we encrypted them. actually, the good info
wasn't even in the encrypted cookie. it was on the servers. the
cookie was just index into a table. and there was enough salt,
and a time stamp, so the cookie changed on each access to our
site.

there's nothing wrong with cookies per ce, if these cookies are
trackable, then google is being lazy.

Re:A Site says "I will not (fully) serve you..." (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about 4 months ago | (#45659477)

"Because what happens is a site says: either allow my cookies or I will not, or not fully, serve you. And because the average user..."

It's worse than that.

I'm somewhere in the middle of the pack. My "user side" skills are certainly a step above newbie. But when the "cookies and friends" are mashed into the loading process for a site from twelve component domains, you can't always just blindly turn them off either! Monster.com comes to mind... there are others.

So then if you're clever sometimes you can custom select which cookies to allow, but already that's losing the war. "I don't think I can stop them all..." - Magneto from X-Men movie 1.

The best I can hope to do is slow the tsunami down into a slow roar. : (

Re:Now 2 good reasons not to allow cookie tracking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659213)

No, the EU horrendously dropped the ball on this one.
Rather than enact a simple bill that simply says ‘do not track people’, they wrote up a complicated anti-cookie document that requires everyone to officially agree to the cookies. At least before the law we could argue that the cookies were put there against our will.
Meanwhile, non-cookie-based tracking continues apace.

A worthwhile addendum to that law (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659275)

A worthwhile addendum to that law would be a "like/dislike" button so that you can leave and say why you're leaving (because they won't work without cookies).

A part of the law not noted is that you have to state WHY you put cookies in and you can ONLY use cookies for that purpose. This is why many UK-only sites have a series of "cookies allowed" options.

1) Bare minimum to continue processing. I.e. a cookie for identification for the site.
2) Enhanced utility cookies. I.e. cookies that allow you do do more things. I.e. a one-click-shop
3) Full eXperience. I.e. a "Take all these cookeis from everyone!! They're great!"

but if I get a "We use cookies" and no opton to use the site without them, I leave. But they then don't know how many customers they're losing. A click to say "I don't like them, I'm outahere" lets me say that I'm off.

Calling for? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45658923)

Just do it, you moron. You don't need to ask anyone, you can just stop the bulk collection of user data.

Re:Calling for? (1)

Travis Mansbridge (830557) | about 4 months ago | (#45658957)

Not if the NSA/FBI can legally backdoor in ways they don't know about.

Re:Calling for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659729)

It's not just ways they don't know about ...

Given what has been revealed over time about the legal leverage applied to these tech execs, I suspect that Google 'just stopping' this bulk collection would literally land Larry and Sergei in jail for violating agreements that they have already signed (same as signed by MS, Yahoo, etc.) which forbid them from doing anything that might reveal that they have even been contacted by the NSA/FBI. So they have to play this careful game ...

Re:Calling for? (2)

erikkemperman (252014) | about 4 months ago | (#45658961)

Exactly. "It's hard to avoid" says Chris Hoofnagle. Right. It would kill Google's business model, sure, but it isn't technically more difficult to not track everyone everywhere everywhen.

Re:Calling for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659149)

Exactly. "It's hard to avoid" says Chris Hoofnagle. Right. It would kill Google's business model, sure, but it isn't technically more difficult to not track everyone everywhere everywhen.

I think you meant: "everywho everywhere everywhen". ;-)

Re:Calling for? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659437)

But he doesn't want the end of bulk collection of user data. He just doesn't want the government competing with him anymore. It's making his business look bad.

Re:Calling for? (4, Interesting)

Desler (1608317) | about 4 months ago | (#45659451)

And this article is amusing in light of the fact that Slashdot has been using Google Analytics and other tools that are feeding this data to Google.

Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (4, Interesting)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | about 4 months ago | (#45658935)

Big data monopolies like Google are the stuff of nightmare for privacy-minded individuals.

But there's a silver lining to that particular cloud: as the most important player in the field, they're the most visible target for abuse of all kinds. Which means that you have a better chance of dodging the abuse if you simply don't put yourself in the center of the target, by not using any Google product.

Kind of like when Windows had the lion's share of the OS market, and you could avoid most viruses by running another OS, not because the other OS was more secure, but because virus writers had a better return on investment writing viruses for Windows and left your fringe OS alone.

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45658985)

Big data monopolies like Google are the stuff of nightmare for privacy-minded individuals.

But there's a silver lining to that particular cloud: as the most important player in the field, they're the most visible target for abuse of all kinds. Which means that you have a better chance of dodging the abuse if you simply don't put yourself in the center of the target, by not using any Google product.

Kind of like when Windows had the lion's share of the OS market, and you could avoid most viruses by running another OS, not because the other OS was more secure, but because virus writers had a better return on investment writing viruses for Windows and left your fringe OS alone.

The only problem with that theory is the one who is actively avoiding Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Yahoo becomes a person of interest because you've now just become an outlier.

Sitting at home running OpenBSD behind three layers of crypto and Tor proxies? Gee, that doesn't look suspicious.

You would almost be better off shoving yourself somewhere in the herd. Statistical algorithms tweaked to perfection will find you otherwise.

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (2)

erikkemperman (252014) | about 4 months ago | (#45659041)

Sitting at home running OpenBSD behind three layers of crypto and Tor proxies? Gee, that doesn't look suspicious.

Which is why, in addition and in isolation, I run an unpatched Windows XP box on which, every now and then, I emulate an average person and use IE6 to download, uh, nature documentaries from sites so dodgy I have to click past a gazillion warnings even on that leaky browser!

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (2)

aliquis (678370) | about 4 months ago | (#45659271)

Yeah. That's why.

("I only searched for global thermonuclear war to trick you into thinking I was interesting! Seriously!")

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (4, Informative)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 4 months ago | (#45658993)

Big data monopolies like Google are the stuff of nightmare for privacy-minded individuals.

But there's a silver lining to that particular cloud: as the most important player in the field, they're the most visible target for abuse of all kinds. Which means that you have a better chance of dodging the abuse if you simply don't put yourself in the center of the target, by not using any Google product.

Kind of like when Windows had the lion's share of the OS market, and you could avoid most viruses by running another OS, not because the other OS was more secure, but because virus writers had a better return on investment writing viruses for Windows and left your fringe OS alone.

Simply not using Google products won't protect you from this as it is using scripts embedded in web pages. Google analytics Gstatic and Googleadservices just to name a few present here on slashdot embeded and reporting back to Google and by extension the NSA.

To block them you need to either completely block javascript which will break many if not modern web pages or learn to use ghostery, request policy, AND OR noscript, oh and https everywhere. then block everything by default and whitelist and temporarily allow as needed to make the pages viewable.

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659029)

so I got ghostery noscript https everywhere. I hooked up some VPN.

to hell with cryptography, there should be laws protecting my privacy and protecting me even if I don't encrypt anything.
 

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (1)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about 4 months ago | (#45659637)

capitalism is not compatible with user privacy. or, so it would seem. we reverve Business (capital B since its akin to God, capital G) to the highest level and if it Helps Business(tm) then its Good For America(tm).

I hate that shit! its a horribly failed system.

but if you try to suggest changes or alternate systems they call you names. or worse.

increase privacy and the business weenies will cry. and they ALWAYS get their way, these days.

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about 4 months ago | (#45659933)

There was less personal privacy in pretty much all spheres of life under communist rule, before you even begin considering personal liberty, and the economic system was a failure to boot.

The Collapse of Communist Economic Theory [fee.org] - APRIL 01, 1961

Factory managers in Russia are examined once a year on political theory. To hold his job, a manager must qualify anew every year in "Dialectical and Historical Materialism," and in "The History of the Communist Party." His compulsory reading list includes 64 official textbooks, plus 93 selections from Lenin, 11 from Engles, 24 from Marx, 13 from Stalin, 14 from Khrushchev, and one from Mao Tse-tung. It is easy to imagine what happens to Russian production when every factory manager is occupied with these predetermined studies as the prime vehicle of his bureaucratic advancement.

Every factory manager has but one aim in life—to make this month’s production quota. His entire career, and all his incentive bonuses, are based on annual quota accomplishment. On this score, another reputable American economist reported: "The incentive system also encourages falsification of records, the hoarding of labor and supplies, and numerous unusual activities such as working employees on a Sunday and giving them a day off in the following month"

This general pattern of phony quota-making has resulted in a broad panorama of totally unreliable production statistics from every sector of the Bolshevik economy.

Russian labor is regimented in a measure which kills all striving for excellence. Trained workers are in short supply in every line of production, and in-plant incentives often are discouraged by meticulously designed production norms delivered by Gosplan, Moscow, for every factory operation.

Communist China is still in business, so to speak, despite the pervasive surveillance of its police state. Why?

China's rising GDP and economic miracle [bbc.co.uk] (Follow link to see graph)

The seeds of China's rapid economic growth since the 1990s were first planted back in 1978 when the Communist Party started to introduce capitalist market principles, initially in the agricultural sector.

There is an open question about how long Europe will be able to continue under its current arrangements. They are facing long term problems with their economies, social policy, and demographics. European governments have been shown to engage in spying as well.

The US government substantially worsened the housing bubble by one set of actions, and slowed the recovery by others. Politics prevented reforms that could have stopped the government intervention leading to the first problem, and is directly resulting in the second.

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (2)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | about 4 months ago | (#45659031)

Simply not using Google products won't protect you from this as it is using scripts embedded in web pages.

Then don't use these scripts either. And if this breaks the web site, complain loudly to the webmaster (outlining the privacy issues, if needed).

Or at least don't accept cookies from these scripts. Often these scripts still run fine (for the visitor), even with google cookies blocked. (stuff like google analytics will break, but that's actually a feature...)

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (4, Informative)

nullchar (446050) | about 4 months ago | (#45659251)

You can easily run ghostery, request policy, refcontrol, noscript, https everywhere, cookie monster, and BetterPrivacy all at the same time.

How does anyone browse without these? I setup all of those, except request policy and noscript, for every user I help. They're nearly all passive.

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (4, Interesting)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about 4 months ago | (#45659647)

on mobile, you have to be rooted to run a lot of adblockers and such.

the first time I ran a non-rooted android phone and saw what everyone else sees on the web, I was kind of shocked. after years of filtering (noscript, etc) at home, I had forgotton how BAD things had gotton on the dirty wide web.

on systems you can control, its fine. on phones - which a lot are not easily rootable - you have much less control.

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659863)

Adblock and Ghostery work on Firefox mobile. Also a bunch of privacy oriented add-ons that are mobile-only, like adding back a quit button that cleans cookies, stored data, etc., setting the user agent, and so on. It's not the snappiest of mobile browsers, but you can view a clean(er) web on android, too.

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659869)

On Opera Mobile, you can use a content blocker file (urlfilter.ini) generated elsewhere to block unwanted content. The downside is that you cannot generate or modify one on the device - you have to use an existing one. You can find plenty online or use the one from your desktop browser if you use Opera on your desktop.

Search for "URL Filter File" on the opera:config page.

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659659)

How does anyone browse without these?

Some pages are completely unusable without these. Not everyone has a 1 Gb/s connection and waiting ages to load all that JavaScript makes applets look fast in comparison.

Blocking Javascript (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659301)

> To block them you need to either completely block javascript which will break many if not modern web pages [...]

Well, that's exactly what I do. Blanket ban on Javascript coming from "out there". Only exception: company-internal stuff (because the dorks here are unable to present an interface which works without). For that, I use a separate browser profile.

And there is just one site (no, it ain't Slashdot, that's why I always go Anonymous Coward. I'd be a regular user if there were a cookie-free way to do it! Heck, I'd even help out in developing one) for which I do enable cookies from time to time (deleting them after the editing session).

Whenever a site goes Javascript-only... good riddance.

Yes, it's a bit extreme, and I wouldn't expect Jane User to do likewise, but I'm actually a bit disappointed that so very few geeks do try.

We could make a difference.

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659579)

Google analytics Gstatic and Googleadservices just to name a few present here on slashdot embeded and reporting back to Google and by extension the NSA.

To block them you need to either completely block javascript which will break many if not modern web pages

Fortunately for Slashdotters the Slashdot javascript is broken even if you load all of it, so blocking some of it isn't a big deal.

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659021)

Kind of like when Windows had the lion's share of the OS market, and you could avoid most viruses by running another OS, not because the other OS was more secure, but because virus writers had a better return on investment writing viruses for Windows and left your fringe OS alone.

MS has been caught doing the same things, if not far worse then Google, you are right about monopoly companies, or closed software/hardware companies getting away with this type of user abuse. But don't think MS isn't also in the back pockets of spying agencies getting away with the same stuff. Most if not all have nothing but ill will, they can come out with PR statements and a naive notions that there companies are "advancing" mankind but few can see past this.

I question if the "3rd Party Cookies", being disabled does anything to limit or just about cut out any of these spying cookies that advertisers insist on jamming in everyone's eye, no doubt there will be /. users/readers that work for these leeches who will come out bashing everyone that is against this type of advertising.

Please show evidence. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659393)

"not because the other OS was more secure"

Bollocks.

Windows OS was definitely less secure than Linux. By a long shot.

It was ALSO more prevalent and therefore infection spread easier for that AS WELL.

Your claim requires proof. Because there's fuck all about "it's more prevalent" that disallowes "less secure" from being true too.

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659027)

Nonsense.
False data leads them in circles. Register your computer and email on someone famous and dead, like say, Bush Cheney, then go wherever you want. Pull their legs, and send outrageous messages on SMS so these people look like left wing ,greenie, racist, porn hooked, tax cheating drug sniffing activists. It is a right pain having 3 computers, one never connected to the internet, but this is what happens. A 5% false positve rate will really hamper unconstitutional brown-nosing.
Wonder what would happen if you added to your google contact list the FBI's / Interpols most watned 100 list ending with .gmail or .whatever. Make sure the 101'st name is your local congrescritter's. Oh, it was someone you did not like who left their terminal/session open. Excellent!

Re:Use Google-like monopolies to your advantage (1)

Desler (1608317) | about 4 months ago | (#45659443)

Which means that you have a better chance of dodging the abuse if you simply don't put yourself in the center of the target, by not using any Google product.

Both extremely wrong and naive. Tons and tons of websites are still reporting back your data about you to Google through their analytics tools. Google is still getting plenty of your data without ever visiting a single one of their products. No different than Facebook being able to aggregate data about people who have never been members simply through the people that person knows posting info about them.

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Oh I love how they pander... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45658959)

A CEO of one of the most successful US Corporations in the entire world wants to put an end to data gathering, and doesn't somehow fucking get that their company exists only because they are in the business of data gathering.

Oh, I love how they pander to us while continuing to shake hands with the devil. You act like they're going to turn away one of their largest customers.

Don't get me wrong, businesses like Google almost have to take this stance "against" the enemy of the People, else they risk losing other portions of their customer base. I simply don't like being lied to by them any more than I like being lied to by my own government.

In the end, nothing will change. Nothing. The US government won't allow it. You're a fool to think otherwise.

Re:Oh I love how they pander... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659417)

You are a sheep. You like being tracked, otherwise you wouldn't use Google.
I stopped using Google a year ago. I block several Google domains. I use add-ons that destroy all cookies. What do you do about it?

Re:Oh I love how they pander... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659683)

You are a sheep. You like being tracked, otherwise you wouldn't use Google.
I stopped using Google a year ago. I block several Google domains. I use add-ons that destroy all cookies. What do you do about it?

What do I do about it?

Make my life convenient, use it when necessary, don't divulge personal information, and sit back and laugh LOUDLY at those who think they're avoiding tracking or assume they're not using Google products/networks/data centers/partners.

Thanks for the chuckle this morning Mr. Outlier. I needed that.

Re:Oh I love how they pander... (1)

quixote9 (999874) | about 4 months ago | (#45659855)

[Google] doesn't somehow fucking get that their company exists only because they are in the business of data gathering.
Exactly. Now that it's all out there, now -- gee whiz! -- they want it to stop. (Note: then turn off the tracking on your own damn servers. See? Simple.)
The time to stop it was years ago, when some man of wealth and taste first suggested it in a meeting.

Google == NSA (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45658973)

not a surprise, these people are giving each other foot jobs under the table

Funny that Google complains (5, Insightful)

yacc143 (975862) | about 4 months ago | (#45658979)

Personally, the collection of privacy relevant information by private companies like Google is way more scary than what a government fools around with.

And don't come, it's voluntary. It's anything but, considering how many sites include elements from Google/Facebook/... (e.g. ads or like buttons), and they DO track you even if you are not a registered user. And the end user tools to customize browser behavior (to suppress unwanted elements of a webpage) are mostly non-available on mobile platforms

Worse, as is the "fundamental law" of privacy & data collection, any data collected will be abused. (Classical example, when the truck toll system in Germany was introduced, it was only allowed by the data privacy commissioner because it's absolutely illegal to use the data for anything but tolling. Couple years later, new government, and immediately "let's use the toll data for law enforcement" is a nice idea in the back rooms.)

So Google might be collecting "anonymous" data about person X, not knowing who X is, but that does not mean that the identity of X cannot be revealed later on, or be known by a third party.

Worse, anonymizing data (removing the parts that identify the user and potentially replacing them by a random id) is way harder, e.g. an interested adversary can usually reconstruct the identities, sometimes even trivially.

Re:Funny that Google complains (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659035)

Personally, I think if you find google more scary than the NSA, that you are a complete idiot, or NSA.

Re:Funny that Google complains (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659069)

Can't he be both?

Re:Funny that Google complains (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659261)

I don't think you get his point. If the NSA tracks everybody and there is a hero like Snowden around, people will go "bad government!" In a wonderful alternate universe something may even be done about it (you need the right political climate - see post-Watergate/Vietnam era). However, if Google (or almost anything but a spy agency) tracks you, people, if they are even aware of the issue, will say "tut, tut, they should respect our privacy more". Nevertheless people won't get that upset, or insist on action, because they figure Google (or whatever) tracks you for the purpose of selling targeted advertising and the like. That is the primary reason they track you, and they would probably be very happy if the NSA never bothered them again.

However (and I think this was the GP's point), once somebody, anybody, collects some data on you, then that data can be accessed and used for other purposes. It's especially easy to get that data if you have law enforcement powers, or have the help of a corrupt secret court busy wiping its ass with the 4th Amendment in the name of "national security". He mentioned the truck example. Here in the US (at least NY state) the EZ-Pass electronic toll collection system was initially created with the insistence that the record of what toll stations you passed through would only be used for toll collection purposes. How long do you think that lasted? It didn't even take "national security" to break that one. You had divorce lawyers and whatnot subpoenaing the info - and getting it!

That's why I admired librarians, who responded to the provision of the PATRIOT act that every government clown be allowed to access your library records, by simply deleting the data as soon as you returned a book. Not collecting, or at least not keeping in this case, is the only way to keep it from being abused. There is no such thing as safe data.

Idea: Build the biggest choke point possible. (5, Insightful)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 4 months ago | (#45658987)

I've said it once, and I'll say it again: We gave you a decentralized network capable of self-healing in the face of thermonuclear war -- Packets routed around cities moments after they've vanished. Then you took the Internet, and built centralized data silos with it like fools. There is no such thing as a client and server, there are only peers that wear those hats. From here you look silly with them glued firmly in place.

There's no reason not to have your own recommendation engine in your own home. There's no reason to send personal messages and pictures to a third party just so your friends and family can see them too. As I've said: You will decentralize services, or the web will die by the folly. It may yet be too late. It would be wise to plan on a re-beginning.

Repent. The end is incredibly fucking nigh!

Re:Idea: Build the biggest choke point possible. (3, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | about 4 months ago | (#45659143)

There's no reason not to have your own recommendation engine in your own home.

Apart from the obvious design advantages to centralising it. A recommendation engine, of all things, benefits enormously from being a shared resource. Communications, less so. There is nothing saying that you have to make that same trade-offs. That's the internet's other strength: heterogeneity.

When you assume something only happened because 99% of people are stupid, check again. There is usually a more informative explanation, especially when your criticisms can be applied to something like the majority of the world's scientific computing resources which are indeed centralised.

As expected (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45658999)

I'd say this is to be expected after all the revelations. Why leave a gold mine like Google cookies unused when the whole point is to end all privacy?
This might cause Google to gather less data or give users the option to remove online profiles they have on you.
Altough that seems unlikely, because lets face it Google does not care about privacy, they only care about customers not trusting their service anymore.

Im just waiting... (4, Interesting)

gmuslera (3436) | about 4 months ago | (#45659003)

till some hacker group uses NSA backdoors to cause mayhem in in US computers. Cookies are more or less harmless, as most of the privacy you lost with them is already lost by some other NSA program. But the NSA (and associated groups) backdoors are a bit more versatile, they are prepared to go into offensive mode [schneier.com] , and probably a lot of US citizens have them installed (I don't think it is limited to just Tor [slashdot.org] , or social networks [slashdot.org] users).

And yes, they can cause mayhem in non-US computers, but how you know that it wasn't intended to happen by the NSA or some related company? The bombs are already in place.

Who uses Google anymore? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659019)

...I kid, I kid. But seriously, maybe the question should be WHY does anyone use Google anymore?

Re:Who uses Google anymore? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659267)

Because Google is no worse than its competitors, just a little more ironic with their "do no evil" slogan.

Re:Who uses Google anymore? (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 4 months ago | (#45659299)

Because:
1. Who else will you use? The other major search providers are just as evil when it comes to tracking.
2. Their algorithms are the best around. A few competitors come close - Bing will do when you're just looking for commonly available information. But when you're hunting the obscure, on a purely technological level, Google just do it best.

Re:Who uses Google anymore? (1)

Desler (1608317) | about 4 months ago | (#45659519)

You don't need to use Google to be tracked by them. Did you not notice the Google Analytics and Google AdWords scripts that Slashdot runs?

Re:Who uses Google anymore? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659939)

Why, no. No I didn't.

Using Opera, add the following items in your ad blocker:
*/ad.*
*/pagead*
*doubleclick.net*
*google-analytics.com*
*googleadservices.com*

having no secrets is suspicious behaviour (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659023)

like a make work job until a real enemy shows up? enemize all of us at once? phewww.

free the innocent stem cells never a better time to trust in momkind our centerpeace

fairytail heritage addiction epidemic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659133)

abuse victims abuse......

Self destruct cookie (5, Interesting)

pmontra (738736) | about 4 months ago | (#45659075)

This firefox plugin [mozilla.org] deletes the PREF cookie and all the others as soon as you close a tab. This means that it's created again every time with a different value.

I went to youtube and got this (I must split the values with spaces because /. complaints about long strings of letters)
google.com PREF ID=b59d89f696da3efa:FF=0: TM=1386759139:LM=1386759139:S=mRC2qiDMZ3ir_5JK
google.com NID 67=c1dV2B25sq3P2XdfPrBzGx9yb89H089A9yORn8UeoYGlGbjOUIbHPs03t_7JesDo_7NcnT UlDm90BZEpoSPX9A7FmbYORqBl5WwLmUiCzjreycq2wGE1rAMOSuXlFaZg

I closed the tab, waited for the cookie destruction message, went to google.com:
google.com PREF ID=024924c1c44d8beb:U=9b9ed7f900bfc1f0:FF=0: TM=1386758246:LM=1386759139:S=GCtQO6AoyqL-fqze
google.com NID 67=lPuV792TXm6MLVCnzVYUN-U2Q7B-XRd1d5xCYp7DXjvXvKzEjxtn99DTIbvaFFIg9a8uk2 AmkokD1TaYRnXL3iNA9SrPc1hj3611xY66gObS6pCY4jTTMeQpF6YHLJnn

Different. Well, mostly different. That LM=1386759139 in both PREF worries me. I should understand what it is for.

Re:Self destruct cookie (5, Informative)

bruce_the_loon (856617) | about 4 months ago | (#45659091)

If you plug the number into a unix timestamp to GMT converter, it returns Wed, 11 Dec 2013 10:52:19 GMT, so it looks like it is a time stamp, probably LastModified or something.

Re:Self destruct cookie (2)

pmontra (738736) | about 4 months ago | (#45659101)

Yes, that's it. You posted while I was writing my answer. Check it [slashdot.org] for more details.

Re:Self destruct cookie (4, Informative)

pmontra (738736) | about 4 months ago | (#45659095)

I answer myself because I looked for it and found this paper (PDF) [cmu.edu] titled "An Analysis of Google Logs Retention Policies".

LM is the timestamp of the last modification to the user Google's preference. It can be used to track down the user because we update our preferences at different times. This applies also to non logged in users like me.

Luckily it's easy to reset LM. Just go to google.com, click the menu, turn on or off Safe Search, click again and turn it back to its original value. LM is different.

Obviously Google could store the old and new value and link them into a db ;-)

Re:Self destruct cookie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659397)

Heh. This gives me an idea: what if the plugin added some random fuzz to LM? Would it make data less useful for Google?

Use perhaps some distribution likely to produce plausible data, e.g. a Poisson distribution with its peak on something like "one hour ago".

Re:Self destruct cookie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659509)

I'd assume it's not very useful for Google anyways.

There's ~2^24 different values for a timestamp over a year, but they claim >2^30 unique monthly visitors - and I'd assume LM's would be clustered pretty tightly for those (and TM's would be very much correlated with LM, making the combination not very useful as well).

Also, LM seem to change for me even though I didn't change any preferences, so the paper might be wrong/outdated with the explanations.

Re:Self destruct cookie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659125)

$ date -uRd @1386759139
Wed, 11 Dec 2013 10:52:19 +0000

HTH, HAND.

Try again a bit later and see if it changes. TM looks like last login time or something, judging by my own cookies, what's LM timestamp is for, I don't know, but it seems to be somewhat in the future in my case. Expiration? Next update?..

Re:Self destruct cookie (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659277)

Yes, Self-Destructing Cookies is a great add-on. If you reject all third party cookies there's a lot of stuff you can't use, and saying "accept this cookie, reject than one" is a serious pain. Do you think the average user would endure it, or even know what to do? Self-destructing cookies is easy and painless to use.

Re: Self destruct cookie (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659401)

Care to enlighten us on what stuff can't you use while blocking third party cookies? I've been blocking them for years and have never noticed any side effects...

Larry Page objecting? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659115)

How can Larry Page object to bulk collection of user data? Isn't that exactly what Google is designed to do?

obligatory privacy tools and recommendations (3, Informative)

nimbius (983462) | about 4 months ago | (#45659127)

if you continue to use google for searches, discontinue this practice immediately and instead use duckduckgo.com
Keep a whitelist of cookies you're willing to accept, and accept them only for the session in which they are generated. this type of limitation can be controlled in Firefox's preferences under privacy. you should routinely delete the whitelist, as a periodic audit of what you need is more expensive than simply rewhitelisting your most visited sites and discarding the one-time stuff you no longer need.

at one time there was a slashdot article on 4 things you can do to increase your privacy as outlined by the EFF, however i cant find it and see no harm in reposting it.
1. use adblock plus
2. use noscript
3. use HTTPS everywhere
4. block any and all cookies, as mentioned above, with strict whitelisting for banks and reputable online merchants.
newer nerds to slashdot may reconsider the virtues of using mutt, cone, or alpine for email as they effectively render tracking pixels and malicious http content an exercise in futility on the part of the sender. RMS uses links/lynx for all of his web browsing, and while that may be a bit extreme for most of us, it certainly cant hurt to use it for opening email links should you be faced with the necessary evil of a questionable URL.

Re:obligatory privacy tools and recommendations (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659533)

Use Lynx!

Noise generation (3, Interesting)

wbr1 (2538558) | about 4 months ago | (#45659167)

How about someone develop benign virus that spreads easily, then browses everywhere similar to a spider or crawler and resets it's own cookies (and/or built in creds for various data gathering sites), frequently. With a relatively low CPU and network footprint, a big enough botnet doing just this would make just about all data collection pointless, as the SNR would become problematic.

Re:Noise generation / digital haystack (2)

retroworks (652802) | about 4 months ago | (#45659377)

Antiphorm http://www.dslreports.com/forum/r20512864-antiphorm-lite [dslreports.com] or "cookie camouflage" would be easy and effective at creating a "digital haystack" so big that NSA could not monitor it. But Antiphorm disappeared, and

Political and Corporate Outrage is all Theater (3, Interesting)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 4 months ago | (#45659215)

The reality is that Government and Corporations are on the same side and none of them want to get rid of the tracking.

Do his stock holders know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659229)

"Larry Page joined the leaders of other technology companies earlier this week in calling for an end to bulk collection of user data"

Isn't that what google does?

H40R3D by the NSA!!!!oneone! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659249)

This is what is called journalism from reputable publications these days.

lost patience (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659337)

I did. Not only with NSA but also with other authorities. I live in Germany so NSA is not that much of concern to me (yes I do know they see my data too but I meant jurisdiction) but we have plenty of our own authorities in Germany. It is however not only lost patience with spying organisations but generally with societal control over state activities, social system failing delivering justice for instance by which I do not mean that hands should be chopped off of thieves in suits but that some common sense should be applied to justice and it should be transparent. I lost patience with fellow citizens too for they are stupid and lazy and do not use any sens or logic but are deceitful liars ready to cut your throat for personal pleasure if benefit is not possible. I think it is time to take things in our own hands. It means of course violence - I do not think it is avoidable as people rarely can use reason if not threatened with violence. I find that to be a sign of times that there is no connection between trigger, reason for action and action itself anymore. In Germany we have highway toll for lorries that is to help state health systems and tax on cigarettes to help pension systems (or other way around). It is the same with security - we will fuck your rights because some rapists who we let go because of our stupidity and who raped a small child but we do it not to protect the child but because we want to have right wing on our side. Our society became too complex and its parts to disconnected from each other to function properly as a society. We have to take responsibility into our hands and do something against the destruction of social cohesion. Of course it is clear to me that we then hand the wrong ones but we do not want to be the only ones that hesitate and think 'why', before going ballistic. Let us sink in holy violence before it is applied to us at any of numerous visible and invisible checkpoints. Better to have them than us on the sharp end of an ax.

As if ... (3, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 4 months ago | (#45659383)

For years, privacy advocates have raised concerns about the use of commercial tracking tools to identify and target consumers with advertisements. The online ad industry has said its practices are innocuous and benefit consumers by serving them ads that are more likely to be of interest to them.

No, the advertising industry wants to target ads to us to benefit themselves, and in the process they've made everything we do tracked, monitored, cataloged, and neatly bundled up for sale to someone else.

And since I am not willing to provide them with this, I feel no compunction about blocking cookies, beacons, analytics, and a host of other things.

For website owners who rely on this, too fucking bad. Because your precious content isn't worth trading my privacy for, and I do not give a damn. It's like going to an Italian Restaurant and being told that Vinnie here also needs to get a cut.

I don't believe Google is really interested in stopping collecting user information. They may want to limit what the government can access, and they want to give the appearance of fighting for the consumer. But the big companies like Google who have really made this widespread have a huge financial interest in continuing this practice.

Once you have things like Ghostery and the like installed, and realize just how much crap is on every web page, it's astounding. Hell, right now, on Slashdot I've blocked "Google Analytics", "Google AdWords Converter", a "Scorecard Research" beacon, and whatever the hell "Janrain" is, and something called rpxnow.com -- and Slashdot isn't the "worst" site I've seen. But absolutely none of those sites is entitled to (or is actually receiving) any of my information.

Fuck the lot of them. I've more or less determined the internet is a place where 80% of the big players can't be trusted, so as much as possible, I just deny them the information they want in the first place.

Because, let's face it, doubleclick.com and the like have been douchebags for better part of 15 years. Why would we assume that would ever change?

Re:As if ... (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 4 months ago | (#45659699)

Most advertisers seem genuinely convinced that they're doing us a favour with their advertising. I'll let readers speculate as to why that might be.

The funny thing is I actually don't mind market research as a field nearly as much. If a company is looking to understand that I prefer phones that fit in my pocket and cost less than two weeks' wages, and wants to fill that niche, then more power to them. However all they seem to want to do these days is use that information to try to convince me to buy something they've already decided I want.

The laws need changing/revoking... (4, Informative)

advocate_one (662832) | about 4 months ago | (#45659407)

the problem HERE lies with the National Security Act which allows them to get this data from Google without having to jump through the hoops of having to provide due cause and a proper warrant. National Security Letters should be outlawed...

Re:The laws need changing/revoking... (3, Interesting)

Desler (1608317) | about 4 months ago | (#45659529)

But if these companies didn't have such huge troves of private user data there would be no need to worry about NSLs, etc. They'd have nothing to give over. He's not against bulk collection of data, etc. He's simply against the government competing against him in the data collection realm.

Okay, that's it. (1)

fullback (968784) | about 4 months ago | (#45659537)

I've had enough of the NSA. I'm going to unplug from the Internet. I'll just yank this cord from my keyb

i'll be impressed by page et al... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659675)

...when they call "for an end to bulk collection of user data" by private entities as well

WE SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO APK! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659689)

I have come to think as APK as Jesus, and us the pharises. He came to tell us the truth about HOSTS files and we called him a kook. Well, he was, but you can use a hosts file to block the various google analytics and ad servers. So block those domains one way or another. And if you have a website, don't use google analytics. Your access logs give you much of that information without handing over control and information to google.

Persistence (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659749)

Is there really anyone here who allows their cookies to persist from one session to the next?

Probably holding out for more money? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45659871)

The cynic in me suggests Google is sending a big "If you want us to keep doing this, we'll need more money" message to the government. I hope I'm wrong, and that google wants to end this regardless of what they get offered.

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