Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes: For years, privacy advocates have raised concerns about the use of commercial tracking tools to identify and target consumers with advertisements but the online ad industry has said its practices are innocuous and benefit consumers by serving them ads that are more likely to be of interest to them. Now the Washington Post reports that the NSA secretly piggybacks on the tools that enable Internet advertisers to track consumers, using "cookies" and location data to pinpoint targets for government hacking and to bolster surveillance. The agency uses a part of a Google-specific tracking mechanism known as the “PREF” cookie to single out an individual's communications among the sea of Internet data in order to send out software that can hack that person's computer. "On a macro level, 'we need to track everyone everywhere for advertising' translates into 'the government being able to track everyone everywhere,'" says Chris Hoofnagle. "It's hard to avoid." Documents reviewed by the Post indicate that cookie information is among the data NSA can obtain with a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act order. Google declined to comment for the article, but chief executive Larry Page joined the leaders of other technology companies earlier this week in calling for an end to bulk collection of user data and for new limits on court-approved surveillance requests. "The security of users' data is critical, which is why we've invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information," Page said in a statement on the coalition's Web site. "This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world."
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