Next time you get ready to view some adult content on your favorite sex site, know that some of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies are secretly watching you. An eye-opening new study found that huge corporations such as Google, Facebook and Oracle are secretly tracking your every click when you visit adult websites. That’s not creepy at all.
A new paper from New Media & Society titled Tracking sex: The implications of widespread sexual data leakage was released on July 15. The report, which was carried out by researchers from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Pennsylvania, analyzed 22,484 adult websites. Researchers utilized a tool called webXray, open-source software that “detects and matches third-party data requests to scan sites.”
Researchers “analyzed” 22,484 sex sites in March 2018. How does one get a job “studying” adult websites? Asking for a friend. Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. The study discovered that 79% of websites transmitted user data via tracking cookies from outside companies.
Of the 22,484 sex sites (who knew that there were 22,484 sex sites), researchers discovered that 74% of the websites contained Google trackers, 24% had Oracle trackers and Facebook had 10%. These trackers can monitor your personal browsing details. Yes, even the freakiest fetish movie you watch.
“Our results indicate tracking is endemic on sex websites: 93% of pages leak user data to a third-party; the pages that leak data do so to an average of seven domains,” the study noted. “79% have a third-party cookie, there is an average of nine cookies; and only 17% of sites are encrypted, allowing network adversaries to potentially intercept login and password details.”
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The study’s authors include Jennifer Henrichsen, doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania; Tim Libert, a Carnegie Mellon computer science instructor; and Elena Maris, postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft and the study’s lead author; found that only 17% of the adult sites were encrypted meaning that users were vulnerable to hackers and security breaches.
“The fact that the mechanism for adult site tracking is so similar to, say, online retail should be a huge red flag,” Dr. Maris told The New York Times. “This isn’t picking out a sweater and seeing it follow you across the web. This is so much more specific and deeply personal.”
If you thought you could secretly fap by switching on the incognito mode, you thought wrong. Google laughs at incognito mode. Adult websites can still see what freaky adult content you’re watching.
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The Times noted that “your I.P. address or your phone’s advertising identification number could be used to reverse engineer your identity and match you with already existing marketing profiles.”
Facebook and Google stated that the information that they collect from their trackers on adult sites are not used maliciously and they don’t do business with adult websites.
Google argues that the trackers are necessary because they use them for Google Analytics to monitor their traffic and keywords. Facebook provides websites with the option to embed a “Like” button to enable users to share content to Facebook. The social network then uses the embeds to collect data on the site’s visitors.
“We don’t allow Google Ads on websites with adult content and we prohibit personalized advertising and advertising profiles based on a user’s sexual interests or related activities online,” a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. “Additionally, tags for our ad services are never allowed to transmit personally identifiable information to Google.”
Facebook echoed the same sentiment and said the social media platform’s community guidelines “forbid sex websites to use the company’s tracking tools for business purposes like advertising.” However, Facebook’s pixel tracker is available for any third-party site to install on their website.
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“Protecting this data is crucial to the safety of its visitors. And what we’ve seen suggests that these websites and platforms might not have thought all of this through like they should have,” Dr. Maris said. “These sites need to think more about the data that they hold and how it’s just as sensitive as something like health information.”
“As in any sexual interaction, silence must not be mistaken for consent,” Dr. Maris said. “Individuals should have a clear understanding of the power dynamics of the sexual exchange they are entering when visiting adult sites.”
This comes a day after startling revelations about the privacy invasion by the popular face-altering selfie app FaceApp.
So next time you’re fapping, remember that big brother is watching.
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