Internet, you sneaky bastard.
Researchers at the University of California trolled through a wide range of popular websites to determine which ones were collecting information (“history sniffing” or “history hijacking”) about visitors.
Though it’s not surprising that YouPorn tops the list of spying sites, less racy sources like Technorati, TheSun.co.uk, and Wired were all fingered for tapping into your browsing habits. (Perez Hilton was on there too—but again, not that surprising.)
The information is often used to target advertising campaigns—a very lucrative field that companies like Interclick are capitalizing on. Their official statement is that the guilty script is meant only as a form of quality control:
Interclick purchases anonymous audience data from several vendors for the purpose of targeting advertising campaigns. Consequently, it has a number of quality control measures in place to understand the quality and effectiveness of this data. The code observed in the paper was a quality measure being tested.
I’m not sure I buy that. But it’s true that Interclick doesn’t collect the data itself—it buys it from other sources like BlueKai, Bizo, AlmondNet, Datalogix, and Exelate. Then, to be sure that the data is worth what they’re paying for it, they rummage through your virtual shit.
Lawmakers aren’t sure if this is illegal quite yet. But if you’re majorly creeped out, consider switching to Safari or Chrome, browsers on which the script doesn’t work. Firefox has a “Private Browsing” option you can turn on; Internet Explorer—the most popular and hence the most vulnerable—has an “inbrowsing” feature as well.