Through initiatives such as the Digital Advertising Alliance, the digital media industry continues its attempts to self-regulate the collection of consumer data via the Internet. Despite that fact, ad technology companies are developing new methods to deliberately circumvent user attempts to evade online tracking, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.
A research team consisting of privacy lawyer Chris Hoofnagle and researcher Ashkan Soltani, among others, published a report on Friday describing the use of a practice called “ETag tracking,” which stores behavioral information in the browser cache rather than in cookies. The technology supposedly provides the ability to monitor users’ behavior even if they block or delete HTTP, Flash, and HTML5 cookies from their machines.
According to the report, researchers found popular video site Hulu.com recreating HTTP and HTML5 behavioral cookies using ETag technology provided by a third party provider called KISSmetrics. Even if a user deletes his or her cookies, data regarding their previous behavior can simply be reinstated, effectively limiting their ability to control how their behavioral information is used.
Although KISSmetrics is not listed as a member of either of those initiatives, Hoofnagle suggested practices such as ETag tracking could severely undermine the efforts. “This is another example of tracking brought to light by researchers, rather than the industry self-regulatory groups… it is unclear whether they have the technical expertise to engage in the surveillance and reverse engineering of new tracking methods,” he wrote in an email to ClickZ.