News

Porn Sites are Tracking You

Via SAGE Journal

New original research shows how nearly all porn websites track their users in ways that may reveal their sexual preferences while providing nearly no consent or opt-out methods.

The Issue

Researchers analyzed nearly 22,500 websites and found that 93% leak user data to a third-party. Those that do, leak data to an average of seven domains and those have third-party cookies have an average of nine cookies. Out of the sites analyzed, only 17% are encrypted, leaving the information even more susceptible to any kind of interception or data theft.

The researchers also found that about half of the analyzed sites exposed or strongly suggested someone’s sexual preferences or orientations, gender identities, or related interests or focus, further adding to the privacy risk.

Of the websites analyzed, only 17% were found to have a privacy policy and only 11% mentioned they were tracking users, bring in question, the idea of informed consent. It’s difficult to argue that websites were, in any way, obtaining consent to track websites visitors, much less give them an option to opt-out.

There are several problems at hand here. By exposing users to tracking (malicious tracking in some cases), privacy is being stolen and sensitive data is falling into the hands of unknown third-parties who may or may not be storing that data more securely. The websites themselves may also not practice strong security, letting hackers easily obtain any collected information or even login and/or payment details.

When it comes to a person’s sexual interests or orientation, that data, if leaked, may lead to serious consequences. As the authors of the paper write, “Those most likely to be impacted by online sexual privacy violations are traditionally marginalized and vulnerable communities, especially women, people of color, LGBTQ and other marginalized gender/sexuality communities, and those whose sexual interests are labeled deviant or abnormal in their community (Citron, 2019).”

In places and communities where certain preferences or orientations aren’t as acceptable as others, having that information leaked can be devastating.

Your Move

If you want to limit website tracking (porn or not), it’s important to use a tracker blocker and a privacy-minded browser. Taking these actions will limit third-party tracking and, ideally, completely blocking them in the first place.

To further protect yourself, we encourage you to avoid signing up or providing any identifiable information to those sites—either use a virtual credit card (like those offered by privacy.com) and consider using an email address specifically for that site. This way, it will be much more difficult to tie any exposed information back to you.

To learn more about the study, you can read the published pre-print here.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

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