When I first studied the Internet and web development some years ago, we were taught that cookies presented very little risk to privacy and security. That was pretty much the case back then, but things have changed so much since, and we’re now fighting a constant war against advertisers who don’t know when to piss off when people make it clear they don’t want to be tracked.
In 2003 nobody could have predicted our online activities would be published on social networks for all to see, or that AOL would pass the details of millions of its own customers to a third party in 2006. Nobody would have guessed that Phorm would make deals with ISPs to force its tracking/targeted advertising system onto millions.
These days, advertising companies are looking for every possible way of tracking people, and a number of browser extensions and other methods are needed to counter that. The situation’s about to get more complex with the introduction of HTML5 features.
Safari’s Dodgy Database
Some of those with iPads, iPhones and the iPods who took the time to look into the Safari mobile browser noticed it has a database called RLDGUID, which was installed by a company called Ringleader Digital to use HTML5 features for tracking users. Ringleader Digital, it turns out, is a mobile advertising company, and according to the company’s ‘privacy page’, the amount of data it stores is certainly more than enough to identify people. This data is also permanent, as far as we know, and keeps re-appearing every time it’s deleted, and the database can’t be deactivated.
Ringleader Digital also has a way around the opt-out system its site links to. Every time a person opts out, a partner company replaces the user ID. So, given that Apple doesn’t allow privacy extensions to be installed or the features to be deactivated, the only option left is to boycott the Safari browser and Apple devices.
Of course, this kind of shit crosses the line of acceptable. Thankfully there’s now a lawsuit in progress against Ringleader Digital and several associated companies for ‘violation of federal privacy laws’. Travel Channel, Go2 and Merriam-Webster were named as the sites responsible for replacing the deleted RLDGUID database in the Safari browser.