The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

August 21, 2010
Wall Street Journal tracks the web trackers

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, Other prominent web destinations also hosted many such files: (131); (151); (118); (127); and (207). Even the Wall Street Journal plops 60 trackers on users' computers.

Tracking technology has grown in number and sophistication, but consumers can fight back. There are ways to block commercial tracking and "opt out" of so-called behaviorial advertising.

June 8, 2010
Cyber-espionage in the Bay?

If you're bored by the election perhaps a good tale of international espionage will brighten your day.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported today that a major consulting/communications firm asked the U.S. Department of Justice to look into possible computer hacking that led to the theft of documents related to a high profile client -- a deposed Middle East shiekh.

The head of the company, Jason Kinney, "became alarmed after the German newspaper Der Spiegel contacted his office last month with questions based on confidential documents concerning his firm's client," the Chronicle reported:

The German paper asked about details of the California group's reported $3.7 million in compensation from the sheikh as well as details of its contract to "develop a comprehensive public affairs and diplomacy campaign" for the prince. Der Spiegel has declined to say where it obtained the information.
Similar inquiries came in the last two weeks from the British newspaper the Guardian, Kinney said.
In his letter to federal law enforcement officials, Kinney warned that the incidents "could include the possible compromising of electronic communications with high-placed U.S. government offices and the offices of federal elected officials.

About The Public Eye

Welcome to The Bee's newest blog: Public Eye. In the coming months, you will see us breaking news here as well as following up on investigations we have published with tidbits, news breaks and behind-the-scenes descriptions of our news-gathering process. Know of a wrong we could right? Send our fraud squad your tips at:

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