\kə-´lü-zhən\ Noun: Secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, esp. in order to cheat or deceive others" By now
everyone knows that unless you take extreme measures to prevent it, almost all websites contain elements that have
the ability to track some or all of your movements around the Internet. Not every method of tracking is nefarious,
and some is even welcome by Web surfers. In fact, it is unreasonable to expect that any website which provides
subscription-free access to its contents not be permitted to serve revenue generating advertisements to pay for
the overhead costs and even allow the purveyor to make a profit. However, there are scads of stories about
companies that set cookies on your computer that allow them to track your every movement even if it is not related
to your mission.
Mozilla recently came out with an AddOn for their Firefox browser named "Collusion,"
that allows you to see exactly how many external sites are tracking your activity and even displays the names of
the websites doing so. As I was snooping around for technical headlines today, I took the time to plug many of
websites into the Collusion application to see what they looked like. The resulting Collusion maps are shown
below. The target websites are displayed in green and the "tracker" website names are in yellow. Lines
interconnect websites according to their relationships with other websites. Note that for many sites, trackers go
on to send your information to other tracker websites. Those are the ones that you are usually told to beware of
because they have the highest likelihood of collecting irrelevant information and selling it to 3rd party
Many of the tracker names that appear along with the homepage are familiar to anyone who has
been using the Internet for a few years. DoubleClick.net is just about everywhere - including on RF Cafe - and
serves the standard size (782x90-px, 300x250-px, 468x60-px, etc.) banner advertisements in page borders and buried
within page content.
DoubleClick.net was bought by Google.com a few years back, so
they are essentially one and the same; in fact, typing doubleclick.net into your browser address field gets you
redirected to google.com.
seems to be popular as well. They claim to be a "market research community, a leading global market research
effort that studies and reports on Internet trends and behavior."
TribalFusion.com ("a global online advertising provider
that drives sales for the world’s top brands by helping them learn about, reach and engage their online audiences
more effectively") is one of the websites that apparently passes the data they collect on you on to other
entities, including ScorecardResearch.com and IMRWorldwide.com (see Cellular News' Collusion map).
IMRWorldwide.com has no public website interface. A search turned up the description by
"imrworldwide.com is a domain used by Netratings Site Census which is an analytics company that is part of a
network of sites, cookies, and other technologies used to track you, what you do and what you click on, as you go
from site to site, surfing the Web."
If you take the trouble to check out the names of other tracker
websites, you will find all kinds of questionable stuff. It might be enough to cause you to increase the security
level of your browser(s). All of the major browsers offer "do not track" type features to help prevent unwelcome
activity, but enabling it and re-checking the Collusion maps showed that they do not catch everything. The problem
with elevating your security level is that it ends up blocking some of the features that you actually want, like
videos and Flash displays, and ends up leaving blank areas in your page and/or preventing the page from loading
completely. After playing with Collusion for a while, it will become obvious why after visiting a website
featuring bicycles or lawn mowers, banner ads on subsequent websites will begin showing you advertisements from
companies offering bicycles or lawn mowers - often even the same company that you had previously visited!
If you decide to try out the Collusion AddOn, be sure that between each website map generated you hit the "Reset
Graph" link on the Collusion screen and also clear Recent History. If you fail to do so, elements from previous
websites will spill over into the current map.
Without pointing fingers and naming names, a quick scan of the Collusion maps below make obvious the broad
range of tracking activity of various websites. Interestingly, the government and government-subsidized websites I
tested have either no trackers or something from Twitter. Surprisingly, Facebook did not show up on any of them.
RFCafe.com shows two trackers - DoubleClick.com (they do the
ads you see) and Google.com, who serves the rest.
Conspicuously missing from all Collusion maps is any
indication that the government, any government, is tracking your movements. You know it's happening, so why is the
evidence missing? The publicly available explanation is that they obtain it second-hand from some of the companies
that you can see. The non-publically available answer is that governments receive entire databases of movement
from the worldwide Domain Name Server and router network so setting cookies on your computer is not necessary.
Check out this story about the
NSA's massive new information center in Utah. However, if you are engaging in suspicious activity and worry
that Big Brother might be watching you, be sure to check with Collusion to see whether NSA.gov, FBI.gov, CIA.gov,
DEA.gov, or some other .gov element is there. If it is, be afraid. Be very afraid.
ARRL's Collusion Map
(American Radio Relay League)
BBC's Collusion Map
(British Broadcasting System)
Cellular News' Collusion Map
CNN's Collusion Map
(Cable News Network)
EE Times's Collusion Map
Fox News' Collusion Map
Military Aerospace's Collusion Map
NASA's Collusion Map
(National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
NFC World's Collusion Map
(Near Field Communications)
NPR's Collusion Map
(National Public Radio)
New York Times' Collusion Map
Physics' Collusion Map
Reuters' Collusion Map
RF Cafe's Collusion Map
Science Daily's Collusion Map
The Engineer's Collusion Map
USA Today Collusion Map
These items are an archive of past Topical Smorgasbord items that have appeared on the RF Cafe homepage. In keeping with
the "cafe" genre, these tidbits of information are truly a smorgasbord of topics. They all pertain to topics
that are related to the general engineering and science theme of RF Cafe.
Please send me an e-mail
if you have
a good subject.