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'anonymous' Browsing Data Can Be Easily Exposed, Researchers Reveal

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Trying to maintain some anonymity.

Two German researchers were able to obtain, for free, data on the "anonymous" browsing habits of more than three million German citizens.

Credit: Steve Marcus/Reuters

A German journalist and data scientist say they were able to easily obtain the "anonymous" online browsing information of more than 3 million Germans by setting up a bogus company complete with a website, a LinkedIn page for its CEO, and a careers site. They used the fake company to test a hypothetical machine-learning marketing algorithm.

"We wrote and called nearly a hundred companies, and asked if we could have the raw [browsing] data, the clickstream from people's lives," says journalist Svea Eckert. Eckert and fellow researcher Andreas Dewes eventually were able to secure the data from a single broker for free.

Eckert and Dewes presented their findings last week at the DEF CON hacking conference in Las Vegas, noting the 3 billion URLs they acquired were diffused over 9 million different websites. Some site users were infrequent, with only a few dozen sites visited, while others had tens of thousands of data points.

From The Guardian
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