Thursday's NPR Fresh Air interview with Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin should be of interest to anyone concerned about their privacy on the Internet. Angwin is the lead writer of a disturbing investigation into the high tech ways advertisers and marketers monitor activities of people browsing the web. The Journal looked especially at tracking software -- "cookies" and "beacons" -- that records consumer activity across the Net. Companies compile that data to build up profiles (dossiers) based on people's online interests and purchases. These dossiers are then used to customize advertising and other content a person sees on particular web sites.
Angwin and her team set up a dummy PC to track the tracking files typically installed on people's computers by the top 50 most visited web sites. They found as many as 234 distinct "trackers" on one site, Dictionary.com. Other prominent web destinations also hosted many such files: Merriam-Wester.com (131); Comcast.net (151); Careerbuilder.com (118); Photobucket.com (127); and MSN.com (207). Even the Wall Street Journal plops 60 trackers on users' computers.