Could your online porn habits be publicly released?

An investigation into online privacy reveals your browsing habits are not as private as you might think

Porn viewers’ online browsing habits could be exposed by hackers – leading to the biggest internet privacy scandal since nude celebrity photos were leaked last year.

That’s the premise of an investigation by Vice's Motherboard science and technology channel, which took a post contending that online porn could be the next big privacy scandal and put it to data experts and the porn sites themselves.

The original post stated that it if you are viewing porn online in 2015, your viewing history could be publicly released and attached to your name.

Any leak of this kind would be hugely embarrassing for those involved, but could have much more serious consequences in countries where certain types of sexuality are banned.

Brett Thomas, the author of the post, said that a combination of browser footprints, user tracking and the prevalence of hacking incidents mean that someone of enough technological know-how could post a website “that allows you to search anybody by email or Facebook username and view their porn browsing history”.

Vice found that 88 per cent of the top 500 porn websites have third party elements stored on them that track users. But it pointed out that the porn sites themselves would only harm their own business if any of that data leaked.

Data brokers, which track browsing habits to sell to third parties, are not governed by any laws stating what can and can’t be done with the data. But they are not the same as hackers, who could theoretically access information about membership to porn sites. Vice said hackers would be more likely to sell the credit card information than release it online for no gain.

Neither brokers nor hackers have a vested interest in creating Thomas's nightmare vision of a searchable porn-user database. But that doesn't mean the data isn't out there. Even a browser in incognito mode will send tracking information to data brokers that according to one privacy researcher is “all sitting in a database somewhere”.

Vice said that shouldn’t surprise internet users: “It’s a truth about the modern internet that just about anywhere you go, you’re being tracked.”

 

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