Why you need to use a VPN to stop Google and Facebook from tracking your porn habits

Posted on Jul 23, 2019 by Caleb Chen
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Tech companies spying on browsing habits

A team of researchers from Microsoft, the University of Pennsylvania, and Carnegie Mellon have revealed a study showing that Google and Facebook are keeping tabs on your porn viewing habits with trackers and using incognito mode or private browsing does not stop it. The researchers analyzed 22,484 porn websites and noted a whopping 93% of porn sites leak information to third parties through trackers. The team also found the largest suppliers of these third party trackers are none other than Facebook and Google. The research study will be released in the next edition of New Media & Society and has already made waves since its publication in mid-July.

The research team used an open source tool called WebXray to match third party data requests (aka leaks) to known URLs and the companies behind them. The research showed not only do 93% of surveyed porn sites leak data to third parties, but on average, this information is leaked to seven different companies. What’s worse is the research showed only 17% of the surveyed porn sites have any legal language in their privacy policy that informs website visitors third party trackers are even being used – something websites have a clear obligation to do.

Why the presence of Facebook and Google trackers on porn sites should scare you

Facebook, the monolithic company some argue is built on a pyramid scheme of fake accounts, and Google, everyone’s internet secret keeper, both acknowledged their trackers were being used by porn sites for this purpose but stated to The New York Times that they don’t currently use the data collected from porn sites to create “marketing profiles intended to advertise to individuals.”

Facebook even hints that its tracker isn’t supposed to be used on pornographic websites; however, there are thousands of counterpoints to that claim. Google doesn’t allow pornography sites to participate in their Google AdWords programs but still allows such sites to utilize Google trackers for Google Analytics purposes. While the porn website that uses Google’s trackers only receives anonymized data from Google when viewing the information through Google Analytics, Google does collect and store this information in its privacy defeating form before anonymizing it and passing it on.

That legalese means that technically, that data, or “anonymized” versions of that data, might be used for the purpose of advertising to groups, geographic regions, etc. This data is being collected and catalogued and only a fool would imagine Facebook and Google are not doing everything legally within their power to utilize it for money making purposes.

In the current world where online privacy regulations are still behind the technological possibilities, these types of abuses run rampant, even from the largest of tech companies. Examining Facebook and Google’s track record, it’s no surprise though. Similar to Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica privacy fiasco, it’s possible and even likely that some of these porn sites are using Facebook’s trackers in a way that is technically outside of Facebook’s terms of use – yet the practice still continues whether because of Facebook’s incompetence or willful ignorance.

Facebook and Google’s trackers work even in Incognito mode: Only a VPN will help you

It’s worth emphasizing over and over again that Incognito mode or Private Browsing mode, depending on your preferred browser, is not a privacy solution. All it does is prevent a local copy of your internet history and form fills from being stored. Google emphasizes this when you open up an incognito window by listing out privacy it does not provide:

“Your activity might still be visible to:
– Websites you visit
– Your employer or school
– Your internet service provider”

Firefox also emphasizes this when you open a private browsing window:

“Firefox clears your search and browsing history when you quit the app or close all Private Browsing tabs and windows. While this doesn’t make you anonymous to websites or your internet service provider, it makes it easier to keep what you do online private from anyone else who uses this computer.”

In contrast to incognito mode and private browsing. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) such as Private Internet Access do make you anonymous to websites and your internet service provider (ISP).

Sign up for Private Internet Access to avoid being tracked by Facebook, Google, your ISP, government and more!

Trackers aren’t the only way that your porn viewing habits can be tracked and catalogued

Besides these trackers the websites themselves are using to strip away your privacy, there are also other leaks of your porn browsing habits that can be siphoned up by nosy neighbors, your data provider, or others.

Sign up for Private Internet Access to avoid being tracked by Facebook, Google, your ISP, government and more!

The study further demonstrated that 17% of the sampled porn sites aren’t even encrypted using HTTPS, meaning your connection to the website can be viewed. Even if your website browsing requests are encrypted, by using your ISP’s DNS server, you are still revealing the URL of the sites you are visiting. The researchers also showed that 49.97% of surveyed porn sites had obviously descriptive domain names which could be used as a proxy for sexual preference or interest – thereby allowing your porn habits to be tracked and profiled by the aforementioned method, as well. The researchers wrote:

“[T]hese porn domains contain words or phrases that would likely be generally understood as an indicator of a particular sexual preference or interest inherent in the site’s content. [T]hese might also likely be assumed to be tied to the user accessing that content.”

When using a VPN like Private Internet Access, the software also changes the DNS server that is being used from your ISP’s DNS server to one of Private Internet Access’s DNS servers – where requests are both encrypted and not logged. In summary, Private Internet Access allows you to stop porn sites from sending your personally identifiable information and your porn browsing habits to Facebook and Google and also protects your privacy locally on the network by hiding your browsing habits from your ISP and any curious people on your own network.

Sign up for Private Internet Access to avoid being tracked by Facebook, Google, your ISP, government and more!

Private Internet Access is important, especially in light of this recent study. As UFC fighter Johnny Walker says in his recent commercial:

“It’s important to keep some things private.”

Sign up for Private Internet Access to avoid being tracked by Facebook, Google, your ISP, government and more!

About Caleb Chen

Caleb Chen is a digital currency and privacy advocate who believes we must #KeepOurNetFree, preferably through decentralization. Caleb holds a Master's in Digital Currency from the University of Nicosia as well as a Bachelor's from the University of Virginia. He feels that the world is moving towards a better tomorrow, bit by bit by Bitcoin.

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1 Comments

  1. Doreatha

    Thanks I am a mother and very busy! This helped me alot!

    4 months ago