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This Privacy Stuff is Really Bugging Me!

By Mike Banks Valentine
Posted Saturday, November 27, 2004

There is a nasty little privacy parasite loose on your computer. You get it by visiting web sites with "bugs" on them. Typically served by ad tracking, affiliate tracking and even email tracking companies to measure the effectiveness of their ads, track their visitors and find out when you open their email. Web bugs are tiny, invisible 1 pixel by 1 pixel graphic files that notify a third party web site when a page, an ad or an email is viewed.

Now if you've joined an affiliate program through any of the major affiliate tracking companies, you have probably even put these bugs on your own pages without knowing what you've done. They come in the HTML code you are given to paste into your page by Commission Junction or LinkShare or BeFree networks and LinkExchange to track your visitors so you can be paid your affiliate commissions.

You'll see on the link code something like this

This is actually the WebSite101 code for our affiliate link to and is required by their affiliate program. This is a "good" use of web bugs to track commission payments to affiliates. It allows the host to track exactly what web page was visited by the surfer and when so that affiliate links can be tracked from their source.

The "bad" bugs are those used by ad servers to track which advertisements are viewed by surfers and combine it with other information stored about that surfer at other web sites. There are bugs included in HTML email -- those messages that include graphics, fonts and page color in the messages -- to see when the email was opened and can even tell where on your hard drive that email is stored, when it was viewed, how long it was open and if the links are clicked on.

"Bad" bugs are used by nefarious sites to collect information from your hard drive and pass it back to their server without your knowledge. This is done in combination with cookies to send information about your surfing habits to third parties, also without your knowledge. For more about cookies visit:


Some of these nasty little critters can even be used from web pages or within your email to install "executable bugs," which can install a file onto your hard drive to collect information whenever you are online. For example, one such bug can scan a hard drive to send information on every document that contains the word "financial."

More on Web Bugs . . .


Fortunately there is a new software available for Windows users called Bugnosis which is provided as freeware by the
Privacy Foundation. The software is designed as a browser plug-in to notify you when a page you visit is a security risk, or simply if the page contains web bugs. They are working on a version that will notify you of bugs in your email.

Call the exterminator honey, we've got bugs in the PC!

About the Author
Mike Banks Valentine
WebSite101 "Reading List" Weekly Netrepreneur Tip Sheet Weekly Ezine emphasizing small business on the Internet Subscribe by e- e-tutorial online at: ( By week's end you're ready expand your business to the web!


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