Does Your Web Browsing Create a Unique 'Clickprint'?

    Date28 Sep 2006
    Posted ByBrittany Day
    On August 21, 2006, Time Warner's America Online revealed that it had severed ties with its chief technology officer after the online service released three months of search queries from 658,000 subscribers which, although "anonymized" by removing user account details, still contained enough data to possibly identify some of the users. The privacy breach underscored the perils of supposedly "anonymous" Internet profiling and raised the hackles of privacy advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The EFF, a week earlier, had urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate AOL and force the company to change its privacy practices.

    A different type of anonymous Internet profiling is highlighted by Wharton operations and information management professor Balaji Padmanabhan in a working paper -- co-authored with Catherine Yang, a professor at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis -- titled, "Clickprints on the Web: Are There Signatures in Web Browsing Data?" Although the authors don't focus specifically on the AOL incident, the paper highlights how it is possible to identify unique users based merely on their browsing behavior.

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