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    Sydney Morning Herald Publishes Series About Online Privacy in Australia

    The Sydney Morning Herald has published a series of stories about online privacy in Australia. The series is similar to the Wall Street Journal’s recent in-depth report, “What They Know,” about the state of surveillance in the United States and how these surveillance programs affect individual privacy.

    In “Inside the cookie monster – trading your online data for profits,” the Herald “analysed the tracking devices installed on a Fairfax Media laptop by the top 10 most-viewed Australian-owned websites (including websites with Australian subsidiaries) as identified by analytics company Nielsen.” The Herald explored Internet “cookies,” which collect data about and can track users’ Internet searches and sites visited, and how companies use them for targeted behavioral advertising of Web users.

    Many users are oblivious to its existence but this multimillion-dollar enterprise is founded on the covert business of spying on web surfers.

    The industry’s primary tools are tracking devices deployed on thousands of websites, surreptitiously gathering information about visitors. Australian users are far from immune. […]

    The information these devices gather is considered anonymous because it identifies web browsers, not individuals. But the aggregation of data from multiple sources means companies can quickly build a detailed profile of a user – so detailed that some people outside the industry fear privacy is at risk.

    Privacy laws in Australia cover only the use of personal information such as names and addresses. But because your online activity is linked only to a browser ID, it is not considered personal information and as a result the industry is almost entirely self-regulated.

    In “Profiling children proves kids’ stuff for advertisers,” the Herald examined marketers’ tracking of children’s online activities in order to better target ads to the kids.

    Online surveillance has become a fast-growing practice with the explicit aim of surreptitiously gathering as much data on web users’ behaviour and activities as possible.

    Children’s gaming websites are part of this data collection industry, and install large numbers of covert devices.

    Of the four children’s gaming websites the Herald visited, three used tracking devices, such as cookies, web beacons and flash cookies. […]

    The devices don’t ask the user’s permission to collect data, identify themselves or explain the data will be stored offshore. “These invisible bugs don’t play nicely.”

    In “Online tracker claims to have data on 8 million Australians,” the Herald examines the companies that gather and sell the data of Internet users.

    The world’s largest ”data exchange”, the Californian company BlueKai, boasts it already has the computer addresses and ”purchasing intent” of 8 million Australians it knows are in the market for cars, holidays and online shopping. […]

    [BlueKai is] part of a wave of companies poised to enter the market to mine the data that flows from people’s browsing history. It is set to ignite a debate in Australia over whether the harvesting of people’s internet browsing history is an invasion of privacy.

    Such is the concern about online privacy that American regulators are even considering a ”do not track” register, similar to the Australian Do Not Call database set up three years ago to combat telemarketing. […]

    BlueKai says it does not collect or share personal information such as names, addresses or phone numbers. Users are identified by their computer browser’s address and not by name.

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