Friday, December 30, 2005

The Guardian bugs its web readers

London (Dec 30) - Today TAE has discovered that, just like the NSA, The Guardian tracks visitors to its website via the use of monitoring files known as “cookies”. Following a visit to The Guardian’s website today, TAE checked the computer folder in which temporary files and cookies are stored, only to find that The Guardian had installed one of these cookies onto TAE’s own computer.

Unlike the NSA, which has agreed to end its use of cookies, claiming that their use was accidental resulting only from an oversight following a recent software upgrade in which the use of cookies had been preprogrammed when the new software was shipped (a fact notably missing from The Guardian’s account), The Guardian has not given any indication that it will cease “bugging” visitors to its website.

According to The Guardian’s own article on the NSA’s use of cookies, a cookie is a packet of information kept by a website on your computer. The Guardian also admits that commercial websites, such as The Guardian itself, use cookies for “tracking” web users.

Although a tech expert consulted by TAE says that cookies can only be used to track activity within the domain which actually placed the cookie there, and cannot relay all web activity back to the cookie owner, The Guardian claims that cookies can be used to “keep track of the different websites you have visited.” Whether this was simply an error, or is perhaps based on secret knowledge of the way in which its own cookies operate, is not clear.

It is also unclear whether or not the cookies still used by The Guardian to monitor its readers’ activities are of the same type of cookies no longer used by the NSA. However, just like the NSA cookies, which were so-called persistent cookies that would not expire until the year 2035, The Guardian cookie found on TAE’s computer is also persistent, with an expiration date of 2015, well beyond the normal life of a computer. According to The Guardian, those previously used by the NSA were “invisible to the user and are hidden on a web page and installed on any machine that visits it.” This description also seems to fit the profile of the cookies used by The Guardian. When entering The Guardian’s website, there is no visible notification that cookies are being installed, and The Guardian admits to installing a cookie on the computer of every visitor to its website.

Although The Guardian does explain on its website its use of cookies, finding it requires the reader to navigate to the terms and conditions page, and then to click on an additional "cookies" link, which is hidden off to the side and placed in a much smaller font than the rest of the body of text. Some say this makes it very difficult to find unless one is specifically looking for it.

The uncovering of these ominous parallels between the secretive NSA and The Guardian come at a time of already increasing pressure on The Guardian over its deceptive behavior towards its readers. Just last week it came under fire over its dubious use of statistics on two separate occasions, and these new revelations are sure to raise additional questions, placing The Guardian into an even more defensive posture.

7 Comments:

Blogger Rob said...

Well done.

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heh. Didn't someone whose birthday is celebrated round about now say something about beams and motes?

12:47 PM  
Anonymous tired & excitable said...

Prediction:
Dessicated national nanny, global drone and all-around old bag P. Toynbee ("I last smiled in 1953") won't go near this one. Move along now...

1:24 PM  
Anonymous bc10 said...

another great post TAE

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I usually enjoy this blog but this is going a bit far: it is hard to find a Web site which doesn't set cookies on a computer. It's common practice for automatic login and such things.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...

Anon,

I agree...it is going too far, which was precisely the point. it was The Guardian which accused the NSA of "bugging" people simply because it is doing exactly what The Guardian itself does, which is, as you say, common practice for many if not most websites, it has clearly gone off the deepend.

If the NSA is "bugging" people, then so is The Guardian. If you believe my portrayal of The Guardian's practices is "going to far", then you should think the same of The Guardian's journalism...which was was exactly my purpose in writing what I did.

SC

1:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your answer.

Keep up the good work!

10:35 AM  

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