Press Release: New tracking methods are accessing more and more data without users noticing it

30. May 2018

The tracking of user activities on the Internet is a known data protection problem. In the meantime, however, there are a number of new tracking methods that are invading the privacy of the user unnoticed. There are hardly any effective ways to protect yourself. In its new white paper, the research association "Forum Privatheit" analyses these new tracking methods and sheds light on the economic, legal and social consequences.

Ich bin ein Textblock. Klicken Sie auf den Bearbeiten Button um diesen Text zu ändern. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Most people know classic browser cookies. They are used by website operators to record user behavior. A variety of blockers are available against these tracking methods. "But such cookies are only one tracking method among many", says Dr. Thilo Hagendorff, scientist at the University of Tübingen and media ethicist in the "Forum Privatheit". "There are now far more invasive and non-transparent methods such as biometric tracking, which analyzes wiping movements during smartphone use, or tracking with ultrasound signals that the human ear cannot perceive. There are almost no effective technical protection mechanisms against these."
Most users are unaware of the new tracking methods
"The legal basis of tracking will be fundamentally changed with the commencement of the Data Protection Basic Regulation and the planned ePrivacy Regulation, since the processing of personal data will be regulated much more strictly in future," predicts Prof. Dr. Alexander Roßnagel, spokesman of the "Forum Privatheit" and jurist at the University of Kassel. In particular, the legal admissibility of ultrasound tracking is examined in the new white paper of the "Forum Privatheit" research association. Benjamin Bremert, lawyer at the Independent State Centre for Data Protection Schleswig-Holstein, explains: "The possibilities of ultrasonic tracking will be significantly restricted by the legal requirements in the future, which makes the procedure unattractive from a legal perspective - but unfortunately it is not a guarantee that it will not be used after all. An empirical study carried out specifically for the white paper showed that users know remarkably little about these new tracking procedures. "Most of the methods studied were unknown to the majority of respondents. If the procedures were explained, a majority of the participants assessed the procedures as not useful, questionable and alarming", summarizes media psychologist Prof. Dr. Nicole Krämer the results.
A public discourse is needed on which tracking forms are legitimate - and which are not
In particular, the lack of transparency of the tracking methods applied, the high depth of intervention in privacy and the fact that users have no easily accessible and suitable options for avoiding tracking are criticised by researchers. "It would be too simple to regard tracking as something per se negative," says sociologist and consumer researcher Prof. Dr. Jörn Lamla of the University of Kassel. "But first there should be a public debate about legitimate and illegitimate forms of tracking. Instead, everything that can be implemented technically is usually implemented in a largely non-transparent way. The consumer perspective often only plays a role when any tracking method becomes recognisable despite the lack of transparency and meets with broad rejection - then it is quickly rowed back. It would be more appropriate to reach a basic agreement on which tracking methods should be considered legitimate."
Arms race between website operators and tracking blockers
In order to protect themselves against the older methods of tracking, Internet users have numerous technical aids at their disposal, so-called ad and tracking blockers. These tools are usually designed without cooperation with browser or operating system developers and implemented as browser extensions. "In fact, the lack of participation of the manufacturers of popular browsers and operating systems in the design of possible anti-tracking mechanisms leads to suboptimal solutions and thus to a permanent arms race between trackers or website operators and tracking blockers," says Hervais Simo, privacy researcher at Fraunhofer SIT and member of the "Forum Privatheit". More effective and sustainable countermeasures must be deeply anchored in the browser or operating system and implemented according to the principles of privacy by design and privacy by default, i.e. data protection through technology design and data protection-friendly default settings. "Protection against tracking in mobile apps and the Internet of Things has so far only been examined to a limited extent." Researchers at Fraunhofer SIT are currently working on the MetaMiner tool, which is intended to make tracking through mobile apps visible and controllable for users.
In the Privacy Forum, experts from seven scientific institutions deal with questions concerning the protection of privacy in an interdisciplinary, critical and independent manner. The project is coordinated by Fraunhofer ISI. Further partners are Fraunhofer SIT, the University of Duisburg-Essen, the Scientific Center for Information Technology Design (ITeG) of the University of Kassel, Eberhard Karls University Tübingen, Ludwig Maximilian University Munich and the Independent State Center for Data Protection Schleswig-Holstein. The BMBF supports the Forum Privatheit in order to stimulate public discourse on the topics of privacy and data protection.


Press Release avialable for download
Press Release
'White Paper Tracking' available for download
White Paper "Tracking"

Speaker„Forum Privatheit“:
Prof. Dr. Alexander Roßnagel
University of Kassel
Project group constitutional technology design (provet)
Scientific Center for Information Technology Design (ITeG)
Tel: 0561/804-3130 oder 2874
Projektkoordination „Forum Privatheit“:
Dr. Michael Friedewald
Project Coordinator „Forum Privatheit“
Fraunhofer-Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI
Competence Center New Technologies
Tel.: 0721 6809-146
Press and Communication „Forum Privatheit“:
Barbara Ferrarese, M.A.
Press and Communication „Forum Privatheit“
Fraunhofer-Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI
Tel.: +49 721 6809-678