September 7, 2010
Most internet users nowadays are well aware of cookies, those little bits of information websites ask your browser to store so they can identify you. They're mostly used by websites for your convenience, but also by advertisers to track you and better target their ads. These have raised many privacy concerns in the past, and it's generally well known that clearing your browser's cookie stash from time to time will keep you a bit more anonymous. Also, modern browsers have become a lot more restrictive and can deal with cookies relatively well. As browsers and users are getting smarter about preserving privacy, so are advertisers at tracking. In a report this morning, ars technica points out that Ringleader Digital, a mobile advertising company, is now taking advantage of the HTML5 local storage feature (in addition to cookies) to quietly track users. This feature was originally designed to allow WebApps to run locally. Officially, Ringleader says it respects your privacy by only keeping "non-personally identifiable information, such as browser identifiers, session information, device type, carrier provider, IP addresses, unique device ID, carrier user ID and web sites visited." Yet, this is already an awfully long list of things. Also, this new form of tracking is hard to escape. Yes, your local Ringleader storage databases (which you can find in the Safari tab of the settings app, named RLDGUID) can be deleted, they however will reappear very soon with the exact same data. Also, iOS doesn't let you disable the database feature altogether. One way to stay a bit more under Ringleader's radar is to use their opt out site, which you can reach at http://tinyurl.com/RLDOPTOUT. This should reset the tracking and give your device a new identifier which they claim they won't track anymore. Guess we'll have to take their word for it. However, this is only one particular case and doesn't fix the problem as a whole, which can also become a security issue. Bottom line, if you really want to stay stealthy online from now on, it's going to take way more effort than in the past. Also, while HTML5 is growing and powers more of the web, Apple and other browser makers have to quickly start implementing ways to keep our privacy safe, like they did with cookies in the past.