Browsing habits can be found from ‘anonymous’ information

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Researchers say they have been able to gather information about the internet habits of three million German people, including the drug preferences of a politician.

The researchers gathered huge amounts of information on the browsing habits from “clickstream” gathering companies.

These are records of where people go online, often providing hugely detailed information about individuals. The researchers say that they believe this data, which can be used by companies to target ads at particular people, should be protected.

The date collected by these researchers is supposed to be anonymised, but analysis found that it could easily be related to individual users.

The research was conducted by Svea Eckert and Andreas Dewes, with the results revealed at the Def Con conference in Las Vegas. They found that 95 per cent of the data discovered came from 10 commonly used browser extensions.

“What these companies are doing is illegal in Europe but they do not care,” said Ms Eckert.

The information found by the research pair included links shared on Twitter and news articles shared on Facebook, as well as when they posted photos online.

Mr Dewes said that the clickstreams often contained links to people’s personal social media pages, which would reveal their identity.

“The public information available about users is growing so it’s getting easier to find the information to do the de-anonymisation,” he said. “It’s very, very difficult to de-anonymise it even if you have the intention to do so.”

“After the research project, we deleted the data because we did not want to have it close to our hands anymore,” said Ms Eckert. “We were scared that we would be hacked.

“You have to be very careful,” she said “It’s so, so dangerous.”

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