Connect with us

Tech News

This tool reveals how websites are tracking your data

(TECH NEWS) Even if you’re taking precautions, you can still have your privacy ruined by online trackers. The web tool, Blacklight, spotlights pesky privacy trackers you can’t see.

Published

on

Shine a light on trackers interrupting privacy

It’s no secret that websites track our data. Advertisements that pop up and appeal to our fashion styles, hobbies, and vacation destinations are no coincidence. These curated ads are created by the information that is fed through a website’s data tracker and third-party cookies. To try to get a sense of privacy, we all rely on private web browsers to block trackers. And we install ad blockers to minimize website snooping. However, this doesn’t guarantee we aren’t completely being watched over our shoulders.

So, how do we shine some light on the dark invaders we cannot physically see? Well, The Markup is a nonprofit newsroom that will investigate for us. Their web-based tool, Blacklight, is a “real-time website privacy inspector”. Anyone can run a privacy check on any website using this tool. To do this, all you have to do is visit their site. You enter the URL address of the website you want to inspect in the tool’s website bar field and click “Scan Site”.

This “opens a headless web browser”, and the tool visits the homepage and randomly selects pages on the site to investigate. In the background, the tool’s custom software “monitors scripts and network requests to observe when and how user data is being collected.”

There are seven different tests the site performs to investigate and identify specific methods of surveillances. Blacklight looks at:

  • Third-party cookies
    Advertising tracking companies use cookies to profile users based on their internet usage.
  • Ad trackers
    Advertising tracking technology loads Javascript code or small invisible images to either build a user’s advertising profile or identify a user for ad-targeting.
  • Key logging
    This captures the text you type into a web page before you hit the submit button on a website.
  • Session recording
    This technology allows a third-party to monitor and record all of a user’s behavior on a webpage. It tracks user mouse movements, clicks, taps, scrolls, or even network activity.
  • Canvas fingerprinting
    Even if you block all cookies, this group of techniques tries to identify your browser without setting a cookie.
  • Facebook tracking
    Facebook pixel is a piece of code Facebook creates to allow other websites to target their visitors later with ads on Facebook.
  • Google Analytics “Remarketing Audiences”
    As the most popular website analytics platform today, this tool enables user tracking for targeting advertisements across the internet.

All of these tasks sound daunting, but Blacklight scans for all these types of privacy violations in less than a minute. Then, it returns a “privacy analysis of the inspected site.” The report doesn’t only give you a long text of jargon you might not understand. It details what every result means. It even gives you information about the ad-tech companies the website has interacted with and provides you helpful links to resources to provide more information.

To test it myself, I entered a random website and quickly received the report. Reading through it, it was very creepy to see what kind of information is being collected. But, I shouldn’t be surprised. The Markup’s website states, “Big Tech Is Watching You. We’re Watching Big Tech.”

Out of curiosity, I also looked up https://themarkup.org to see what all they are watching. Shockingly (not really), everything returned with positive results. Interesting, huh?

Veronica Garcia has a Bachelor of Journalism and Bachelor of Science in Radio/TV/Film from The University of Texas at Austin. When she’s not writing, she’s in the kitchen trying to attempt every Nailed It! dessert, or on the hunt trying to find the latest Funko Pop! to add to her collection.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: How Cloudflare's web analytics could give Google's tools a run for their money

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tech News

Not just for gaming: How virtual reality can save PTSD patients

(TECH NEWS) Thanks to its ability to simulate situations safely, virtual reality technologies are proving effective in therapy for PTSD patients.

Published

on

Woman wearing a VR headset in warm sunny lighting, PTSD patients treatment

Over the last year, a great many people have developed a new and sometimes dangerous relationship with a new emotional state, anxiety. I know that personally I’d never had a panic attack in my life until the middle of the pandemic. For many these emotions have taken the form of actual disorders. Actual mental influences which affect everyday life on a large scale. One of the most common forms of which is PTSD.

This disorder has many different aspects and can affect people in a number of different and debilitating ways. Finding treatments for PTSD patients and other anxiety disorders – especially treatments that don’t involve drugging people into oblivion has been difficult.

A lot of these disorders require exposure therapy. Putting people back into similar situations which caused the original trauma so that their brains can adjust to the situation and not get stuck in pain or panic loops. But how do you do that for things like battlefield trauma. You can’t just create situations with gunfire and dead bodies! Or can you?

This is where VR starts coming in. Thanks to the falling cost of VR headsets, noted by The Economist, psychologists are more capable of creating these real world situations that can actually help people adjust to their individual trauma.

One therapist went so far as to compare it to easy access opioids for therapy. This tool is so powerful that of the 20 veterans that they started with, 16 of them no longer qualify for the categories of PTSD. That’s a 75% success rate with an over-the-counter medicine. I can think of antihistamines and painkillers that aren’t that good.

I’ve grown up around PTSD patients. The majority of my family have been in the military. I was even looking at a career before I was denied service. I have enough friends that deal with PTSD issues that I have a list of things I remember not to invite certain people to so as not to trigger it. Any and every tool available that could help people adapt to their trauma is worthwhile.

Continue Reading

Tech News

Tired of email spam? This silly, petty solution might provide vindication

(TECH NEWS) If you struggle to keep your inbox clean thanks to a multitude of emails, the widget “You’ve Got Spam” could provide some petty catharsis.

Published

on

Email icon with 20 possible spam emails on phone screen.

We’re all spending a lot of time behind our computers and inside of our inboxes these days, so it makes sense that some people—not naming names—might be sick of seeing several unsolicited emails a day from marketers and other unsavory businesses.

While we can’t recommend a mature, adult solution that hasn’t already been beaten to death (looking at you, “inbox zero” crowd), we can recommend a childish one: Signing solicitors up for spam.

If you do decide to go the petty route, “You’ve Got Spam”—a free email widget from MSCHF—has you covered. Upon installing the widget, you can configure it to respond automatically to incoming cold-marketing emails with tons of subscriptions to spam sources, thus resulting in overwhelming the sender with a crowded inbox and cultivating a potentially misplaced sense of catharsis for yourself.

The widget itself is fairly simple: You only need to install it to Gmail from the MSCHF website. The rest is pretty self-explanatory. When you receive an email from a person from whom you can safely assume you’ll never be receiving favors ever again, you can open it and click the “You’ve Got Spam” icon to sign the sender up for spam lists galore.

See? Petty, but effective.

The developer page does fail to make the distinction between the promised “100” subscriptions and the “hundreds of spam subscriptions” discussed on Product Hunt. But one can assume that anyone who dares trespass on the sacred grounds of your squeaky-clean inbox will rue the day they did so regardless of the exact number of cat litter magazine subscriptions they receive.

Of course, actually using something like “You’ve Got Spam” is, realistically, a poor choice. It takes exactly as much effort to type, “We’ll pass – thanks!” as a response to anyone cold-emailing you, and you’re substantially less likely to piss off the actual human being on the other side by doing so. Services like this are heavy on the comedic shock value, but the empathy side tends to lack a discernible presence.

That said, if you absolutely must wreck someone’s day—and inbox—MSCHF’s “You’ve Got Spam” is a pretty ingenious way to do it.

Continue Reading

Tech News

Clubhouse finally made it to Android, but has its time passed?

(TECH NEWS) Social media felt the impact of Clubhouse, but the internet moves fast, and even though it is finally on Android, it’s time may be waning.

Published

on

Woman holding book and a phone, with headphones, participating in Clubhouse.

Clubhouse finally got an Android release, and while many people clamored for such a thing months ago, others argue that it’s too little, too late.

If you aren’t familiar with Clubhouse, it’s an audio-only “social platform” that encourages discussions through live chat rooms. Users can drop into various rooms and listen to people talk, request the option to chime in, and follow a variety of rooms (or “topics”) to stay engaged over time. Users can even create their own rooms that feature them as speakers.

Clubhouse also has a certain allure to it in that the app requires new users to put their names on a waitlist that creates an “invite-only” culture of exclusivity.

But while iPhone users have had access to Clubhouse since its inception, Android users have been not-so-patiently waiting for their own release—and, now that Clubhouse for Android is available, it may have outstayed its welcome.

Part of the problem is the launch itself. The Android Clubhouse app launched with limited functionality; Android users weren’t able to follow the topics they like, change their account information, and so on. This made the release feel underwhelming, further highlighting Clubhouse’s affinity for Apple users.

A more complicated problem is the prevalence of audio options in other social media services. Slack, for example, recently released their audio-only rooms, and services such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have placed a spotlight on voice-only mediums of expression.

Initially, Clubhouse was the only app to incorporate audio as a strong central focus, but the ubiquitous fascination with voice-posting has expanded to comprise most major communication platforms. As such, Clubhouse’s sought-after exclusivity is no more—something that was also arguably damaged by expanding to Android.

It should be noted that interest in the app itself is decreasing, and not just on Android. Social Media Today reported that, in March of 2021, Clubhouse downloads were down 72 percent from February’s 9.6 million downloads. The publication also pointed out that difficulty finding rooms was a substantial issue that is unlikely to do anything but worsen with a surge of Android users, necessitating some back-end fixes from the owners.

As it sits, Clubhouse is still very much in use, and Android users are poised to reignite interest as iOS users stagnate. Whether or not that interest will persevere in the current social media ecosystem remains to be seen.

Continue Reading

Our Great Partners

The
American Genius
news neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list for news sent straight to your email inbox.

Emerging Stories

Get The American Genius
neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to get business and tech updates, breaking stories, and more!