Stealthy Background Programs & Cookies Collectors You Might Not Know About! What does BlueKai do?

Introduction

There is some stuff we are often unaware of and it is even being sold to other people without our knowledge.

This complex story is told in two parts.

  1. Data Aggregators: Stealthy background programs that spy & keep an eye on you gives examples of the types of spyware that operates by hiding in the background.
  2. This section here: “Stealthy Background Programs & Cookies Collectors You Might Not Know About! What does BlueKai do?” Goes into the complex nature of spyware and ad-ware.

It’s a complex subject and story with the most powerful and rich companies, security organizations, and government taking an interest in this subject. To even talk about it in an article like this one can feel intimidating as one realizes how intrusive this industry can be–that they might be looking over my shoulder right now.

The most powerful and compelling argument to give away everything bit of data about yourself, your wife, and children to the various companies and the government is the national security argument and to assist security and police to do their job.

The same reasons make for a strong argument that any data that companies collect about you, your wife and children should be handed over to the government to better assist the security of the nation and help security forces and police to do their work. This argument is always stronger when terrorism is mentioned.

Those companies that collect data are under financial, legal and political pressure from their customers (big business often) and government to hand over information about you. So we might rightly wonder if promises from data collection companies of privacy and only collecting information that will not identify you really apply or are true [11].

In fact the data collection and data aggregation by private companies is dangerous as it allows the government to obtain information that it could not legally obtain on its own. Any company that refused to hand over information to the government could be subpoenaed [11].

This process seems even more sinister as facial recognition becomes part of the stuff used in data aggregation. We have been told that Facebook accidentally turned on facial recognition without telling people… oh well.

Regardless of if your face turns up in a group photo or you give away seemingly innocent facts that could not possibly be traced back to you (or can they–perhaps who you vote for is known). The fact is that linking information with things that strongly indicate who you are is a science and they are getting better  at it every day and even old data might eventually connected to your “strong” identifiers (such a pictures of your face or name for example). In data aggregation “strong” identifiers are often used to make a thing called a primary key.

If you think people are not interested in connecting seemingly random information to the person who created it (the primary key), you would be very wrong: “Collecting sensitive data from disparate data sources is at the center of bio-terrorism and counter-terrorism surveillance efforts in the United States.”

I’m not suggesting face recognition technology isn’t fun to use. I think it would be quite cool to grab a photograph and have everyone’s name pop up on it. The problem is when such technology is used as a tool to track us and invade our privacy.

I’m not suggesting that it’s not cool to have advertising, videos and reading-material that is of interest to me presented to me as if the web-browser is a good friend of mine and knows exactly what I like. But are you willing to sacrifice your privacy for this privilege?

The collection of data about us should not occur, we should be in control the information we give out about ourselves and possibly using Pearl Trees might be a way to do this.

Please feel free to seek other articles that talk about similar things I talk about here, so you can make a informed decision about what the data-collection, data aggregation, and profiling industry is really about and how they might affect you.

We stand at the edge of a time when it will be decided if we are responsible enough to give out information about ourselves or if someone else has to make that decision for us.

I also hope you will get:

  • a better understanding of what privacy issues you might have when you access the internet
  • what happens to data collected about you
  • how the data collected about you can be analyzed and put into a different form (profiling for example).
  • How data that is collected, interpreted and bidded on so that pop-up adds can be placed on the computer. All these processes can be automated to keep the data “fresh” and the pop-up adds relevant.
  • that as data gets older it becomes cheaper to purchase in most cases. However you might disagree with this as sensitive information might be seen by you as still valuable no matter how long it is kept for example–you children’s names for example!

Pop-up adverts, windows and collecting and selling your profiles

I found that my pages were loading quite slowly. I also found that pop-up pages are appearing on my Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox.

It was only then I realized that background programs were operating on my computer system. I have always known that cookies were kept on my computer but they have never really concerned me until then.

While I am now sure there were many background programs on that day collecting data about me, the one that I noticed was BlueKai!

InitiallyI thought BlueKai might be involved in pop-up advertising, but they have assured me that they do not get involved with that. you can read their statement to me below.

Before we take a look at BlueKai, it may be time to look at the history of “spyware.” Spyware has been around for some time, possibly 20 years, but it gained prominence in when windows and internet explorer came on the scene (in the past IE was very popular and tied in closely with windows).

Spyware that found its way to your computer was not only used to harm you but some used it as a pathway to commercial gain through things like adverts. There has been a attempt to separate the commercial function of spyware by calling it ad-ware.

However since the collection and aggregation of data is not specifically linked to advertisements until it is used as such, the collection and aggregation of data is still classed as spyware.

Spyware (including ad-ware) hides in the background to perform its duties. While many people don’t know they have spyware (or ad-ware) operating on their computer.

People also don’t often know that they have often agreed to having that spyware (or ad-ware) on their computer via the end-user license agreement (EULA) that is displayed during the installation process that often occurs after you have down loaded something.

However since EULAs are long, boring documents that are written in hard to understand legal language, most people do not read the EULAs most people remain unaware of what they have agreed to. This ignorance of what the EULA says stretches well beyond spyware into areas like who owns the photograph that you upload to Facebook for example.

While BlueKai might not like to be called spyware, that is what it is classed as [18,19,20,21,27].

So lets take a look at who BlueKai is based on articles I can find on it and what I hope is a positive report about them from the official BlueKai website.

So what is BlueKai?

BlueKai is one of the many companies that get involved with data collection and aggregation. BlueKai separates itself from its competitors by adding some behavioral information about it’s customers into its data.

While the computer age has bought a new meaning to data collection and aggregation, this industry has been around well before computers came on the market.

Innovative people like Omar Tawakol, the chief executive of BlueKai, has realized that value is determined from quality and age of the data collected from your computer.

This is how BlueKai works: a website sells its information to BlueKai who in turn sell that information to third parties.

Advertisers who want to cut down on costs and also target people who might be interested in their adverts would be very interested in the product (behavioral data) BlueKai offers. This is especially so for advertisers whos adverts are very time sensitive (such as when competing for customers of first-class flights for example).

Advertisers can target computer users even if they might currently be browsing an unrelated subject such as a online newspaper, or any other place that allows for adverts such as MySpace or Facebook for example. Other ways to get a users attention might be to pop-up windows or redirect the users attention to newly opened windows–remember you often agreed to this when you “read” the EULA for that stuff you downloaded.

BlueKai’s collected and aggregated data is not to blame for how advertisers choose to use the information they have purchased. In fact I was lucky enough to get a direct comment from them assuring us that they do not get involved in pop-up advertising.

You can also read what BlueKai have to say about itself here: bluekai.com.

you can even participate in BlueKai’s data collection activities if you wish. They offer many types of benefits to the people who help them out.

A Direct Comment From The BlueKai–We Do Not Cause Pop-up Windows

“To clarify, there is no association between BlueKai and pop up advertising. BlueKai works with websites across the Internet to aggregate consumer interests in a transparent way. BlueKai provides consumers with real transparent book-end solutions that offer privacy and choice. To suggest that the company operates through subterfuge and chicanery is egregious at best. The company has a strong track-record in giving consumers disclosure at collection, clear in-ad notification and universal opt-out choices, including its BlueKai and white-label registry, and opt-out cookie protector that ensure opt-out choices are not accidentally removed. Consumers have a choice to opt out ANYTIME at http://www.bluekai.com and at the NAI. http://www.networkadvertising.org/.” [This comment is copied directly from a comment (below) they left here in April 2011]

I have searched though the comments about this company and have found users are indeed able to find out what BlueKai stores about them!

Pop-ups and add blocking

Mozilla Firefox has a number of options for controlling how cookies are collected by others. Mozilla Firefox also has download options if you need additional protection such as add-blocking and pop-up blocking.

You can of course go outside Mozilla Firefox and use a search engine to find pop-up blockers and add-blockers.

Possible ways you can control and share the content you are interested in

I think we should be the ones who choose to freely give information to advertisers by products that are both fun to use and useful. I have provided some examples below.

Possibly website organizers might be a start to this type of solution. I particularly like the idea of Pearl Trees where you can take a tree created by another person and add it to your own. A Pearl Tree can contain bunches of interesting websites.

For me pearl trees are a way of sharing multiple links about a subject with others in a way that could not be done before. Well, yes it could be done before by listing groups of links together on a website or blog like this one, but it just somehow lacks the full impact, collectability and flexibility of Pearl Trees.

Here are some questions you might like to ask about the spyware and ad-ware that operate by hiding in the background. Also companies associated with spyware and ad-ware will raise some questions also:

  • do you directly buy information from a data collector or data aggregator. In fact do you actually understand what data collection and data aggregation is?
  • do you sell information to a data collector or data aggregator?
  • If you have no idea a data collector or data aggregator sells then I would suggest there is already a major problem of if you understand what transparent and how data collection and aggregation are of benefit to you!
  • do you know what spyware and ad-ware is?
  • do you know if there is spyware collecting data from you right now?
  • do you know what data is collected about you by the spyware?
  • do you know who buys the data that spyware collects and what it is used for (remember this data may remain on the system for the rest of your life and possibly well beyond that; it may even handed over to the government)?
  • Does the data collectors and aggregators buy information from others (that may not use the same policies for data collection as the data collector and aggregator) ? If the data collector and aggregator bought information from others, and integrated that information with their own information and then sold that information to it’s customers: would you (the person who they collected the data from) be able to find out about it?
  • Do you know what data-mining is?
  • Do you understand what is the legal limits of someone who is collecting data about you?
  • Do you feel you have control of the information that data collectors and data aggregators gather and sell to others?
  • Do you trust spyware and ad-ware?
  • Do you understand what a data collector and data aggregator company says on it’s website?
  • Who is the audience that the often technical information on the the data collector and data aggregator companies website aimed at?
  • Do you know who the data collector and data aggregator companies customers are? Are you even entitled to know who their customers are?
  • Are you questions answered in a language that is easy for you to understand and information that is easy to double check (well referenced)?

References:

  1. http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/facebook-facial-recognition-technology-sparks-renewed-privacy-concerns-20110608-1fs3n.html
  2. http://www.itnews.com.au/News/259933,facebook-facial-recognition-sparks-privacy-concerns.aspx
  3. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Face-recognition/115133788502007 Facebook page that includes the pattern recognition keywords: Principal Component Analysis with eigenface, Linear Discriminate Analysis, Elastic Bunch Graph Matching fisherface, the Hidden Markov model, and the neuronal motivated dynamic link matching.
  4. http://www.facebook.com/blog.php?post=467145887130: possibly a official statement from a Facebook engineer on the advantages of facial recognition to help tag photograph collections.
  5. http://www.pcworld.com/article/230107/facing_facts_facebooks_facial_recognition.html and
  6. http://www.pcworld.com/article/229742/why_facebooks_facial_recognition_is_creepy.html?tk=rel_news “Newsflash: Facebook knows your face.” and that’s “creepy.”
  7. http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Cloud-Computing/Facebook-Facial-Recognition-Goes-Where-Google-Doesnt-Dare-567123/ “Facebook Facial Recognition Goes Where Google Doesn’t Dare”
  8. http://www.slashgear.com/googles-facial-recognition-app-found-falsified-by-cnn-31143772/ “Well… Google will dare once strong privacy model is in place–facial recognition.”
  9. http://arstechnica.com/security/news/2011/06/rsa-finally-comes-clean-securid-is-compromised.ars “RSA finally comes clean: SecurID is compromised.”
  10. http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/06/researchers-undercut-anonymity-of-voting-test-taking.ars “Researchers undercut anonymity of voting, test-taking”
  11. http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/cs199r/bd-aggregation/kheffner_etal.pdf“In projects like Total Information Awareness, the government has proposed to use combinations of medical, financial, educational, employment, travel, and telephone records to search for patterns of transactions that are suggestive of terrorist activity. While the EFF understands the need for national security, TIA and similar projects are unlikely to be effective in practice and will raise too many security and privacy concerns in the process.” and “Various governmental bodies may retort that they are not trying to aggregate the data from smaller public and privately held databases, and therefore are not inducing more security risks. However, creating any interface for accessing the data in these databases exposes each one to a new pool of possible risk, let alone the new risk of being able to correlate the data from each smaller pool.”
  12. http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/cs199r/bd-aggregation/kgoodson_etal.pdf “In order to fulfill its mission, the CDC collects, aggregates, and retains a lot of private health information about individuals.”
  13. http://michaelzimmer.org/category/privacy/data-aggregation/
  14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_aggregators “The source information for data aggregators may originate from public records and criminal databases; the information is packaged into aggregate reports and then sold to businesses, as well as to local, state, and federal government agencies. This information can also be useful for marketing purposes. Many data brokers’ activities fall under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) which regulates consumer reporting agencies. The agencies then gather and package personal information into consumer reports that are sold to creditors, employers, insurers, and other businesses.”
  15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_mining
  16. http://www.ethicapublishing.com/ethics/4CH12.pdf “no place to hide, seems to be contradicted by Osama Bin Laden who found ways around this sort of trace.”
  17. http://www.globalnews.ca/Even+without+Internet+compound+Laden+system+send+emails+avoid+tracking/4778008/story.html “Osama bin Laden managed to send emails while in hiding, without leaving a digital fingerprint for U.S. eavesdroppers to find.”
  18. http://www.howstuffworks.com/how-to-tech/how-to-avoid-spyware1.htm “How to Avoid Spyware,” and “Adware: Similar to spyware and malware, in that it resides on a computer without the user’s knowledge, adware specifically refers to programs that display pop-up advertisements. The subject matter of the ads is often based on surfing habits, but may also be tied to a specific advertiser.”
  19. http://www.howstuffworks.com/how-to-tech/how-to-avoid-spyware.htm “How do I remove adware from my computer?”
  20. http://www.howstuffworks.com/spyware1.htm: The spyware industry does not have a good reputation to stand behind.
  21. http://www.howstuffworks.com/spyware.htm “Has your computer ever become so slow that you can fix yourself a snack in the time it takes your word processor to open?”
  22. http://www.cogmap.com/chart/bluekai-inc “Bluekai organizational chart”
  23. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/26/business/media/26adco.html?_r=2&scp=1&sq=bluekai&st=cse BlueKai sell behavioral data.
  24. http://adage.com/article/special-report-ad-network-exchange-guide-2009/behavioral-data-lead-smarter-ad-buys/136003/
  25. http://bachman5.blogspot.com/2009/04/behavioral-exchanges-like-bluekai.html
  26. http://swik.net/bluekai
  27. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spyware

Assist, shortened version of this link: Stealthy Background Programs & Cookies Collectors You Might Not Know About! What does BlueKai do? http://bit.ly/i13Ble

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2 Responses to Stealthy Background Programs & Cookies Collectors You Might Not Know About! What does BlueKai do?

  1. Stephan says:

    To clarify, there is no association between BlueKai and pop up advertising. BlueKai works with websites across the Internet to aggregate consumer interests in a transparent way. BlueKai provides consumers with real transparent book-end solutions that offer privacy and choice. To suggest that the company operates through subterfuge and chicanery is egregious at best. The company has a strong track-record in giving consumers disclosure at collection, clear in-ad notification and universal opt-out choices, including its BlueKai and white-label registry, and opt-out cookie protector that ensure opt-out choices are not accidentally removed. Consumers have a choice to opt out ANYTIME at http://www.bluekai.com and at the NAI. http://www.networkadvertising.org/.

    BlueKai takes consumer privacy issues seriously and will continue to take responsible measures in making sure that consumers concerns are addressed.

    • gharrhome says:

      Thanks for the clarification. I like your comment so much I am also putting directly into my main article. I’m glad you take “consumer privacy issues seriously and will continue to take responsible measures in making sure that consumers concerns are addressed.”

      Certainly your rapid response is appreciated.

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