Big Data is everywhere. Occupy Wall Street protesters, however, are dealing with a special challenge: Online marketers and analytics firms tracing the minutiae of their lives–including their email contacts and physical location–and possibly passing the information on to law enforcement.
According to technology researcher Tim Libert, protesters affiliated with the Occupy movement have unintentionally aided and abetted corporations in tracking them through social media and analytics plug-ins. Popular web analytics tools such as Google Analytics and Sitemeter, it also turns out, repackage website information for corporate clients. These corporate clients can then pass on information to law enforcement agencies willing to purchase the data.
Mobile users of several popular services, whose GPS locations are much more likely to be tracked by overzealous local law enforcement, are especially vulnerable, Libert said in an email to Fast Company.“I’m quite certain with the right set of database queries, Google engineers could identify specific account holders (through Google Maps) who were present at Zuccotti Park, for example. Likewise, it would be fairly trivial to compile a list of people who spent more than six hours at a time at any given Occupy encampment by looking at mobile phone records. That would give you a fairly good list of all Occupiers worldwide, who you could then place on any manner of watch lists.”
Libert found that sites affiliated with the Occupy movement often included Facebook “Like” buttons or analytics services, which lead to user information being repackaged for marketers and corporations. Using the browser plug-in Ghostery, which reveals tracker bugs, Libert discovered that 99 out of 100 Occupy sites he visited employed some sort of cookie or third-party embedded content. Facebook and Twitter buttons showed up on 47% of the Occupy sites–but these buttons are also used by those social media giants to gather detailed information on user likes and habits. Every time an Occupier clicks a “Like” button for their local Occupy movement or information clearinghouse, they also potentially add information to a marketing dossier which could be acquired by probing law enforcement. (Note: Fast Company uses over 10 services tracked by Ghostery, including DoubleClick, Google Analytics, and Red Aril.)
Read More: Fast Company