Tag Archives: web bugs

Bugs In Your eMail

Last Friday we wrote about the Cookie’s cousin, Web Bugs. Insidious little creatures that invade your PC and let the marketing folks know exactly where you are. They even “talk” to their cousin cookies.

A most common usage of Web Bugs is through the use of emails. Web Bugs do 2 things when you open your email:

1. They tell the sender of the email that you read the message.
2. That your email address is valid (because you opened the email) and
3. That their email got past your filters

Spammers love Web bugs. They let the spammers know that the email address they harvested is real if you’ve opened an email from a spammer; allowed HTML in that email and allowed images to be shown in the email.

Using Web Bugs, Spammers can prune their lists down to the small fraction of people reading their email and target those people with many more spam messages of different kinds. I.e. if you read a Spam message and are identified as a ‘good recipient’ by a Web Bug, then your email address just became a spam magnet! This is bad for you but good for the Spammers — as a larger percentage of messages that they send make it to viable recipients.” Protecting Yourself from Email Web Bugs

It is very difficult to filter web bugs. A good way to protect yourself is to use server-side email filtering. It must be a filtering system that auto-detects and removes Web Bugs in email messages. It must also leave the rest of the images in the messages intact.

If you do not allow “images” to be displayed in your email, this will also eliminate the power of Web Bugs. Don’t turn those images on.

The safest way to receive email, and avoid Web Bugs, is to receive them in plain text format.

Cookie’s Cousin: The Web Bug

Just when you thought you’ve finally understood how those pesky tracking cookies work, and how you need to delete them as one way of trying to maintain some type of privacy on the Internet (hiding your iP address being the best way) now you’re finding out about Cookie’s cousin, the Web Bug.

Web Bugs are 1-pixel size gifs that tell Web sites, and advertisers, where you are on the Internet.

Unlike cookies, which can be seen and deleted from your computer, Web Bugs are nearly invisible on the page; are much smaller and roughly the size of a dot on a typed page.

Craig Nathan, chief technology officer for privacy company Meconomy.com says that a Web Bug “is like a beacon, so that every time you hit a Web page it sends a ping or call-back to the server saying ‘Hi, this is who I am and this is where I am.’”

Here’s the ugly part: You can hardly see a Web Bug. Anti-cookie filters don’t always catch them. As a result, the Web Bug will track your surfing habits on sites where you would not expect to be tracked!

Another function of Web Bugs that makes them particularly nasty is their ability to “talk” to their cookie cousin, if they both come from the same website. DoubleClick, the notorious Internet marketing operation, uses both cookies and Web Bugs to enhance its tracking abilities of Web surfers.

If you’re visitng a regular retail on-line store, and it uses DoubleClicks cookies and Web Bugs, then the Web Bug would “read” your DoubleClick cookie ID number, which shows your past Internet visiting habits, and that information would then go back to DoubleClick.

Ira Rothken, a lawyer at the Rothken Law Firm, based in San Rafael, California: “The danger of that is that if you were going to a site on yeast infections, the second it loads up, before the screen loads, somewhere in the world the fact that you visited the site is now registered. That’s the evil of Web bugs.”

Actually, that is only one of the evils of Web Bugs. Because there is also the ability to possibly tie your cookie number to your personal information such as a phone number and address.

And, of course, all of that is tied into your real IP address!

Another huge danger of Web Bugs? They are used in the email you receive. Companies that send bulk email, not necessarily spam, but email you’ve asked to receive, are usually sent in HTML format. In that HTML (web page) format, is a Web Bug. This helps the company determine:

- how many people read the email
- who read the email,
- when you opened that email,
- how often you read that email, and
- if it was forwarded to anyone else.

There are methods by which you can protect yourself from catching a Web Bug, or two. And we’ll review some of those methods in a future article.

But just remember that one of the most effective methods of enhancing your privacy on the Internet and protecting your privacy when dealing with cookies or Web Bugs is to always hide your IP address.