HTML5 promises a whole new realm of what’s possible both Online and especially in mobile, but experts are growing weary of the technology from a privacy point-of-view.
In a New York Times article published over the weekend, numerous experts from all facets of the ecosystem gave their thoughts on what HTML5 will mean for the average consumer. The concern stems from the fact that the new Web language and its additional features present more tracking opportunities because the technology uses a process in which large amounts of data can be collected and stored on the user’s hard drive while online.
Because of that process, advertisers and others could potentially see weeks or even months of personal data, which could include a user’s location, time zone, photographs, text from blogs, shopping cart contents, e-mails and a history of Web pages visited. The new Web language “gives trackers one more bucket to put tracking information into,” said Hakon Wium Lie, the CTO at Opera, a mobile browser company.
Pam Dixon, the executive director of the World Privacy Forum in California, goes so far as to say “HTML 5 opens Pandora’s box of tracking on the Internet.” While it does allow those with access the ability to dig a little deeper in terms of usage data, I’d say this statement is a bit far-fetched. Like all other tracking technologies and abilities we’ve all lived with since the Internet was born, HTML5 will offer the same safe-guards and anonymity that regulates how user-data is collected and utilized.
To show the potential vulnerabilities associated with HTML5, Samy Kamkar, a California programmer best known for creating a virus that took down MySpace.com in 2005, created a cookie that’s nearly impossible to delete, even by experts — something he calls an “Evercookie.” The “supercookie,” as some are calling it, stores information in at least 10 places on a computer, far more than usually found. It combines traditional tracking tools with new features that come with the new Web language.
Kamkar said that after cataloging what he found on his computer, he made the Evercookie to demonstrate just how thoroughly people’s computers could be infiltrated by the latest Internet technology. “I think it’s O.K. for them to say we want to provide better service,” Mr. Kamkar said of advertisers who placed tracking cookies on his computer. “However, I should also be able to opt out because it is my computer.”
The concern should rest with advertisers and how they use the new data-collection abilities found in HTML5, not the technology itself. Large media companies like Fox Entertainment Group and NBC Universal, and even technology companies like Clearspring and Quantcast, have been accused of violating users’ privacy by tracking their online activities even after they took steps to prevent it.