Cookies — those little data trails everyone leaves behind while surfing the internet — have long been a staple in online ad targeting. Now they’re being put to another use as well, with the National Security Agency using both cookies and locational data to choose individuals to pinpoint for hacking and greater surveillance. In the same way that Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) knows to give some people adds on shoe sales, while it gives other people ads on cheap dog food, the NSA is tracking people — according to the Washington Post.
The invasion of privacy has been a hot topic recently following Edward Snowden’s — former NSA contractor — release of government surveillance documents. This newest topic of concern comes in the wake of a letter from tech companies including Google, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), addressing the over involvement with online data invasion.
“It is time for the world’s governments to address the practices and laws regulating government surveillance of individuals and access to their information,” read the letter. The government use of advertising technology may have an unexpected effect on these selfsame companies though; forcing them to alter their own monitoring.
The documents released by Snowden mentioned more than just re-purposing of ad technology. Mobile phone tracking has also been revealed. Phone apps on Android and iPhones often have the capability of tracking the location of the phone — and individuals are often not properly alerted to this fact.
There is a “link between the sort of tracking that’s done by Web sites for analytics and advertising and NSA exploitation activities. By allowing themselves to be tracked for analytic of advertising at least some users are making themselves more vulnerable to exploitation,” Ed Felten, a computer scientists from Princeton, told the Washington Post.
“As we’ve said before, NSA, within its lawful mission to collect foreign intelligence to protect the United States, uses intelligence tools to understand the intent of foreign adversaries and prevent them from bringing harm to innocent Americans,” an NSA spokesman told the Washington Post.