Here for example is a complete listing of the information collected on a YARGBY reader picked at random, visitor number 17,502, made public by Sitemeter.
Domain Name: verizon.net ? (Network)
IP Address: 138.88.60.# (Verizon Internet Services)
ISP: Verizon Internet Services
Continent : North America
Country : United States (Facts)
State : District of Columbia
City : Washington
Lat/Long : 38.8955, -77.0199 (Map)
Language: English (United States)
Operating System: Microsoft WinXP
Browser: Internet Explorer 6.0
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1)
Resolution : 1024 x 768
Color Depth : 32 bits
Time of Visit: Nov 12 2005 3:26:13 pm
Last Page View: Nov 12 2005 3:26:41 pm
Visit Length: 28 seconds
Page Views: 3
Referring URL: http://www.washingto...1833_Technorati.html
Visit Entry Page: http://yargb.blogspot.com/
Visit Exit Page: http://yargb.blogspot.com/
Time Zone: UTC-5:00
EST - Eastern Standard
EDT - Eastern Daylight Saving Time
Visitor's Time Nov 12 2005 5:26:13 pm
Visit Number: 17,502
We can see that this reader uses Internet Explorer on Windows XP, lives in Washington, DC, and came in through a link from the Washington Post. Sadly, he or she only stayed with us for 28 seconds. While such information is no doubt innocuous, the fact remains that there is a sufficient quantity of it to more or less identify you personally, and hence to tie you to all the web sites which you have ever visited. By perusing such information I was able to determine that Rick Ballard was actually visitor number 10,000 to this blog.
Google is known to tie all this information into their database so that they are able in principle to match all of your queries on Google to you personally. Principle has become reality: there are at least two recent cases in which searches on Google have been used as evidence against the accused in a murder trial. Through the Google Mail program Google can tie even more information to you personally, to wit, everything you have written in your emails, or received in your emails. One wonders how far this can be pushed. Can searching on "France" and "Muslim" be considered legitimate evidence against you in a hate crimes case?
The problem extends further. Some years ago I was horrified to discover, using special monitoring software, that a simple visit to www.microsoft.com using Internet Explorer was causing huge amounts of information about me to be pulled out of my Windows machine's registry and transmitted back to the mother ship, again without my knowledge or consent. This is apparently programmed-in behavior. The registry is the central repository of local information in the Windows system, It contains your name, your machine identity, your address, and basically anything else which any of the manufacturers of the software you have installed have decided to collect about you. Sony for example recently got caught installing secret software to monitor information about you and put it in the registry in hidden locations. No one knows what Microsoft is keeping on you.
Data is the name of the game these days. Hardware is cheap and software is becoming free. Data is the commodity of value. Those companies that are able to tie all the data about you together and sell it to interested parties will pull ahead in the marketplace. Even if Google and Yahoo and Microsoft and the like are pure as the driven snow, your data can be used by governments or organized crime to take further actions against you should you come for some reason to their notice.
What can you do about this gross invasion of your privacy?
There is a service called Anonymouse to be found here. It is advertising-supported, popping up small ads in front of the page you wish to access. I discovered it accidently by looking through the logs on Sitemeter for YARGBY. It seems to block the personal information available to websites so that your Internet activities remain only your own business. I have been trying it for a couple of weeks and it seems to work well.
There is, though, no guarantee that I can see that Anonymouse itself is not collecting this data in order to use it against you for its own purposes. Sigh.
Do you remember the Gene Hackman character in Enemy of the State? I'm starting to think he had the right idea.