So You Think They’re Not Watching Your PC?

madhedgefundtrader's picture

Hey! You there, staring at this monitor. This is your PC talking to you. No, not you over there standing in the background. I’m talking to the guy sitting in front of me poking at my keys. Ouch! That one hurt!

So you thought no one was watching, did you? Let me straighten you out. About a month ago you clicked on a certain website, and I installed myself as a cookie on your computer, which is an innocuous little text file that you can’t see. Since then, I have been tracking your every move, recording websites you clicked on, the pages you visited, and the stuff you ordered. I then used this handy little algorithm to build a profile of exactly who you are. I now know you better than your own mother. In fact, I know you better than you know yourself.

For example, I am aware that you make more than $250,000 a year, live in a posh zip code in San Francisco, belong to a fancy country club, and drive a Mercedes. You donate to Republican political causes, send your kids to a prestigious private school, and bill it all to an American Express Platinum Card. Did I leave anything out?

Because I know every detail of your life, down to your inside leg measurement, I am able to harness the power of this machine to more precisely service your every need. That includes directing advertising to you which you have a high probability of clicking on. The more you click on my ads, the higher prices I can realize for those ads. The ad campaigns you now see are unique to your own personal computer because they are tied to your IP address. My program, called “behavioral targeting” is the next “big thing” in online advertising. It’s all part of the brave new world.

I see you have been shopping for a new car. Check out the new Hyundai at  which offers the same quality as your existing ride, at half the price. Your clicks this morning suggest you’re taking your “significant other” out to dinner tonight. Might I suggest Gary Danko’s on Bay Street at ? The rack of lamb is to die for there. Your visits to  and  tell me you’re planning a vacation. I bet you didn’t know you can find incredible deals in Las Vegas at . Thinking about buying a condo there? They’ll even pay for the trip if you promise to check one out while you’re there.

Since we’re chatting here mano a mano, I noticed that that last pair of jeans you ordered from had a 42 inch waste, up from the 40’s in your last order. Better lay off those cheeseburgers. Pretty soon, they’ll be calling you “tubby” or “fatso”. Better visit soon, or the legs on that chair might buckle out from under you.

Worried about privacy? Privacy, shmivacy. There hasn’t been privacy in this country since the first social security number was handed out in 1936. And don’t expect any relief from Congress. I doubt half those dummies even know how to turn on their own PC’s.

Don’t even think about trying to delete me. I’m a “flash cookie”, an insidious little piece of code that reinstalls every time you try that. Think of me as a toenail fungus. Once you catch me, I’m almost impossible to get rid of.

I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve been passing your personal details around to some of my buddies at other websites. That’s why when you clicked on you got deluged with product offers from your local team, the San Francisco 49ers.  I’ve got friends at Google, Facebook, MySpace, and pretty much everywhere. Can I help it if I’m a popular guy? I bet the view from those 50 yard seats is great, isn’t it?

I noticed that your spending habits don’t exactly match with the income you reported on your last tax return. Do you think the IRS would like to know about that? I bet you didn’t know the agency offers a 10% reward for turning in tax cheats.

How did you like those triple X DVD’s you bought last week? Whoa! Hot, hot, hot! I hope your employer never finds out about those. It might not go down too well at your next performance review.

I thought it was lovely that you bought your spouse a two carat, yellow, vvs1, round cut diamond ring for $26,000 from for your 30th wedding anniversary. But who is Lolita, the Argentine firecracker, in Miami Beach? Does the old wifey know you sent her a $2,000 pair of diamond stud earrings? What’s it worth to you for me to keep mum on this? Maybe you should take a quick peak at and see what you’re in for?

Naw, I’m just pulling your leg. This is all just between friends, right? Think of it as a doctor/patient relationship. I’ll tell you what. See that leaderboard ad at the top of the page? Just click on that and we’ll call it even. Oooh that felt good! Click it again. Oh, baby! Not too many times. You’ll trigger my anti click fraud program.

Now you see that wide skyscraper add over on the right? Click on that too. Oh baby! Click it again! And there’s a little button ad at the bottom of the page. No, not that one. A little lower. What was that little cutie’s name in Miami again? Aaaaah.

To see the data, charts, and graphs that support this research piece, as well as more iconoclastic and out-of-consensus analysis, please visit me at . There, you will find the conventional wisdom mercilessly flailed and tortured daily, and my last two years of research reports available for free. You can also listen to me on Hedge Fund Radio by clicking on “This Week on Hedge Fund Radio” in the upper right corner of my home page.

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Frank Owen's picture

About a year ago I had a couple buddies over and we were watching a tv show that i had downloaded. From the laptop - to the DVR - to the TV just for ease of pausing. Anyway, we noticed a laughing track in the background and then voices... the voices and laughs were us - the dvr was recording and there was a delay in the playback. The computer's mic was picking up our voices and adding it to the outgoing audio. I shit you not.

A computer can be used as an audio and visual bug....

Conrad Murray's picture

That's not the only bug around you.  There's over 250,000,000 people with a cell phone in the US.  A good many, if not all, of them can have their mic/camera remotely activated.  That's been going on for a long time.  There was a stink about it in 2006 if I remember right.  Google "roving bug" for more info.

A newer technique is listening to people in their automobiles through OnStar mics (not to mention they can shut the car off via satellite AND they gloat about it in a commercial). 

They are ALWAYS watching and listening.  Fuck em.  Live your life.

Dental Floss Tycoon's picture

If they know so much about me why do they keep showing me Cramer ads?

Azannoth's picture

1st Use Firefox

2nd Use private mode (when browsing porn ;)

3rd Never use you're real name online, setup an emil account under an alias, and use this alias Everywhere(better yet setup a few aliases)

4th Never give you're real personal info online especialy to people who ask for it

5ve Use an app like CClearner to regulary clean you're PC

6f If you're paranoid(those who always survive) that put false or missleading info when asked, (a wrong city, state, country, language, etc.)

7n And remember, They are Always out there to Get You!

jc125d's picture

Thanks Mad, for the public service. Swept the cookies, but some were stuck to the floor. Took a little scraping, now we're clean.

Real Estate Geek's picture

Lots of good advice here on how to protect what's left of your privacy.  Unfortunately, it's all for naught with respect to the gov't., because that your ISP knows everywhere you go on the web and what you do there.  My understanding of the so-called "Patriot" Act is that the gov't can recover that data at will.

More troubling is the prospect of expanding partnerships between ISPs and, say, Google.  If (when?) those happen, the corporations will know everything they could ever want to know about you.

AssFire's picture

FireFox & Webroot - done.

CPL's picture

Cookies and Flash blocking is small fish in comparison to the other irritants that are roaming around there.  While a cookie might track your movements back and forth to a site, the really threat has been BHO’s (Browser Helper Objects).  Most are benign but others go into the painful stage by launching an attack of one thousand hooks to permanently imbed themselves into the Operating System.


I’m sure a couple of you have experienced this, even on the Mac and Linux, not just Windows.  You end up hitting facebook, play those stupid time wasting pieces of shit (Farmville, Treasure Island, Mafia Wars) you didn’t even realise that by accepting the EULA (yes for a fucking game that runs through a browser) you just gave full permission to allow snooping using a BHO.  For most government online services sites they manage to drop poorly designed (security risk) BHO’s to track the government services you are interested, capture keystroke (key logging is allowed if you are the government btw).


And yes, the companies are allowed to sell your information to whomever they wish, and yes they do sell their information to the federal government.  You would be surprised for how little.  4 years ago if you wanted names, addresses of all people that mention the word levi’s on facebook you could go to a company called GotMarketing and for 49.95 you could run a query AND for another $400 arrange a spam ad campaign.  Thank Christ the spam filters are useful for catching that crap now.


BHO’s though are a wicked pain in the ass, usually the primary reason attack sites exist now, the government and their Banking industry buddies with the lower bid first initiatives usually generate poorly built BHO’s and sloppy security that let a host of malware to force redirection to annoying site. 


Believe it or not, the porno industry doesn’t let them happen, they develop rock solid code for two reasons 1) competition is fierce 2) they are constantly expanding and moving so limiting their user is a really bad idea.  The porno players LOVE their customers.  The Government and the Banks don’t give a shit about your general sense of security.


So how do you combat this?  Easy.


Use virtual computing.  VirtualBox by Sun is free.  You don’t do any online work on your “physical computer” you build a virtual guest, take something called a snapshot and do what you need to do.  When you are finished you revert back to the original set up and let her rip for the next session.


Most of you are probably used to the ads on your system.  But for shits and giggles, try out a fresh OS build and check out what gets offered to you ad wise.  It’s like the google trending services with adsense literally blows it’s mind and it starts trying to sell saw horses, washing machines and condoms in the same ad campaign.


Personally I’m picturing that when I refresh my OS everyday to scrap the web crap, there is a marketing person slowing dying from a stroke because I’m a random element.  An itch (s)he can’t scratch.  Get enough of us doing that, and I’m positive there is a stroke waiting to happen somewhere in there.


BTW I run Ubuntu Linux 10.04 btw with a virtual Windows XP SP3 client with firefox running in Virtual Box.



Species8472's picture

Use sandboxie, cownload from

You can run just about anything in it including firefox.

Johnny Bravo's picture

If you truly want to see something scary... google your name, and go through about the first 30 or so results that pop up.

I did this a week or so ago, and I was SHOCKED at the information that came up.

On one such site, they had my last six addresses, my annual income, my mother, my grandmother on my dad's side - complete with both of their maiden names.

They had pictures of me from my myspace, and my facebook.

One of the most unsettling things was that some of this information, I have never given to anybody.
My grandmother's maiden name, for example, was something that I never even knew until I clicked on this site.

There are examples of information on the site I found that I never gave to anybody before.
And, for a small fee, they are willing to give much more information than they displayed about me - to anybody who is willing to pay.

It scared the hell out of me.  Really.

I can't even say how much it scares me that some random site on the internet knew things about me that I did not know myself.
I couldn't even tell you my last address, but they had my last six addresses on there.

They knew what country my parents and grandparents emigrated from.  They knew my mother's and grandmother's maiden names.

Like I said, it just scared the hell out of me.

If you have a less than common name (one that's not Bill Johnson, for example) go ahead and google your name, and see what pops up.
I'm sure even if you have a more common name, you'll still pop up, but you'll have to search more to find you.

Frank Owen's picture

I googled Johhny Bravo and came up with this from wiki:

"The series stars a muscular beefcake young man named Johnny Bravo, who dons a pompadour hairstyle and Elvis Presley-like tone of voice personality. Plots typically revolve around him trying to get a woman that he has targeted throughout the episode to fall in love with him. He is often beat up or stunned by his target or companions, or gets ditched by them in the end."

Eric Cartman's picture

Wow, you don't know shit about me! You don't know shit about anything! I delete all my caches and cookies everyday and constantly check for malware. Even better, I use an apple so i'm even more difficult to track. 

So Nice try and thanks again for wasting my somewhat valuable time.

DosZap's picture

Remove any use of Google from your computer,(your ISP provider can block them, and you can choose not to USE GOOGLE, it's a Monster, that is a SPY for you know who), programs are available to BLOCK FLASH COOKIES.

I’m a “flash cookie”, an insidious little piece of code that reinstalls every time you try that.

Never use your computer to pay bills, or online bank, do not use Debit cards.(you are asking to be a pauper),programs are/have been in use in the U.K., that theives use to EMPTY your accounts that are associated w/ a ATM, or a Debit card.

YOU are not insured from the it $500.00, or $120,000.00.
Banks MAY reimburse you, but it's optional.

Passwords- Whole nuther story.

Use a Minimum of 12 characters,(not 11, or 13, 12) and /or entire sentences as passwords.


Just doing these three things will stop a ton of tracking.


BlingBlingBen's picture

This article is correct. I have two browsers, a safe Firefox that is loaded with a great No Script program and Explorer which is never safe to use. My Firefox blocks all flash and scripting programs. I have a high security HD cleaner that erases all tracking info and a program that blocks my ip address. You can assemble all of these programs for free. My ip blocker gives me the names of all corporations and governments that are spying. I am often shocked at the number of attempts made to capture my ip address.

Species8472's picture

Here's waht you do:

- use firefox

- install the following addons

- add block plus, will stop most 3rd party ad sites and cookies

- better privacy, deletes and controls flash super cookies

- selective cookie delete, will delete all cookies when the browser closes except those you want, like ZH etc so you stay logged in.

- flashblock, blocks flash from playing except when you want to see it.

Remeber to set adblock to turn off on some sites like ZH so they can get some $ when you click an ad.

TheClub55's picture

Good advice... plus don't forget to lie, lie, lie on the web - I use false names a number of email accounts, never a correct b-day, phone number, etc. so when I do have to use real info its much harder to get a true picture of my data.

DaveyJones's picture

why leave it there, as Steve Martin suggests, be sure to talk wrong as well: "mombo dogface to the banana patch?"

jstalin's picture

Jeffersonian: Don't bother with internet explorer. It's junk. Go to firefox and install addons like Adblock Plus, Better Privacy, and quickjava.

downrodeo's picture

Thanks for the article MHFT. Everybody's thinking it, you're saying it.

Jeffersonian's picture

Couple questions: does IE8 in InPrivate mode protect against flash cookies? Also I have it set delete temp internet files when it closes, does this protect it?

Regarding Firefox, these flash cookies are not Adobe Flash cookies I assume, so BetterPrivacy would be ineffective? I also have it set to delete all temp files when it closes, does this flush the flash cookies?

Hunch Trader's picture

Solution: evolve onwards from an apeman who wants everything it sees and is ready to plunge its hard earned money on that.

Learn to understand what you really need and why, and want that. Let the mindless zombies be at the mercy of involuntary programming. You program yourself.

Careless Whisper's picture

this post by madhedgefundtrader is just the tip of the iceberg....


nmewn's picture

Another consideration...outside of personal online open wireless networks.

Many people don't password protect their wireless network.

Point being, in a neighborhood or coffee shop, many can be riding on anothers network (someone elses IP address) so whatever information gleaned may or may not be specific to one person, unless there is a chip imbedded within each individual machine, then tied to the purchaser of said machine they got nuthin really in that scenario.

I would be interested in the software/hardware engineers out there weighing in on this.



Arkadaba's picture

That is a good point. But I have found over the past few years, I'm seeing less and less unprotected networks (I have occasionally *borrowed* a connection when travelling).

Chippewa Partners's picture

I'd pay a fee for ZH....a big fee.

Geoff-UK's picture

I'd PREFER a fee to access the comments section--would maybe keep Johnny Bravo, et al from posting.  At least until they get the cash to move out of their mom's basement.

Dr. Sandi's picture

As well you may, when THEY find out you've been reading this sedition.

DosZap's picture

SEDITION, if anyone is guilty of sedition, it's the one's your concerned with.

Half of D.C.'s employee's need to be tried and jailed, or hung publically for treason & sedition NOW.

Henry Chinaski's picture

I'm pretty sure my inside leg measurement is private.  Outside legs, not so much.

Arkadaba's picture

I work in the online advertising business and have insights from both a business and tech/science point of view. Broken_Trades was right - geographic location is easily discernible by your ip address. I have read posts from people here complaining about the Cramer ads - I don't get them because I'm outside the US. I get Canadian Forex and Gold ads - Yes!

It does drive me nuts though when people complain about online advertising. What do you think has fueled the growth of online sites? Why can I access Facebook without paying a fee - hmmm online advertising. Why can I access ZH without paying a fee - hmmmm online advertising.

Right now online advertising is the dominant business model driving online growth. Will that change in future? I would predict yes - but I don't know yet what the new eco system will look like. 

But if you are concerned about targeting ... just set your browser to delete all cookies after each session - it is that simple.


DaveyJones's picture

"geographic location is easily discernible by your ip address"

doesn't that depend on whether or not the address is static or dynamic? Aren't most dynamic now. Isn't that one reason why they invented the cookie?

Arkadaba's picture

Nope - doesn't matter if the ip address is static or dynamic.

RockyRacoon's picture

Why can I access ZH without paying a fee...

But you do donate, right?  Yes, I thought you did. 

bookwurm's picture

Its nice to be running linux,if your running windows, firefox with the no script,flash block,better privacy and tor add ons installed. Opera is good for something different, if you absolutely have to go to some website that's suspicious use lynx, which is a text based ascii browser that is fun to figure out.

Gully Foyle's picture


How is Tor? I've been meaning to take the plunge, but always worry about new additions.

That will be the proxy, right?

DukkButt's picture

Also check out BetterPrivacy as an add on to Firefox. It gets rid of the Flash cookies that regular internet filters like Norton apparently don't even see. It deletes at least two of them every time I close my browser.

midtowng's picture

The first thing you should do is set your Firefox browser to empty all your private data every time you close it. There is also a ad-on to eliminate hidden cookies.

Then there are other ad-ons like Ghosttracker, Adblock, and other goodies to protect yourself.

Of course none of this makes a difference if you simply put yoiur personal data on Facebook.

luster's picture

But if everyone followed your instructions, there would be nothing to get hysterical about.




24KGOLD FOIL HAT's picture

I hardly ever see an ad, I use Firefox browser.  It has a plug in that blocks websites that are known ad senders.  The database is huge- like 40,000 sites.  It works great- they must update it hourly.  I see no ads on ZH or Drudge or HufPo, etc.  Pages load faster when the ads are censored.

Firefox is free and has a ton of good features.  It is on your side while IE is on the Matrix' side.

Waterfallsparkles's picture

I have Firefox and use it as my Browser also.  The Targeted Adds do not come up as Pop Ups, they are displayed on the page you are on.

Experiment. Google something unusual like I did an All In One Washer & Dryer and then see if you do not get an add for All in One Washer & Dryers.  They are unusual and are mostly sold in Europe not in the US.

Gully Foyle's picture


Not happening. I use Ad Block Plus and No Script with Firefox.

Dark Space's picture

It is not just popups - Adblock Plus blocks ALL ads. You literally have no ads on any site you go to, no popups, no banners, no google textual ads, nothing. The ads just do not load as the rest of the page loads up fine.

You should really try it.

Kreditanstalt's picture

I'm not too concerned about unsolicited advertising, spam or commercial tracking and offers.  I can always reject those companies' 'suggestions' because they DON'T have guns.

What I am concerned about are governments, because they DO.

Gully Foyle's picture

TBT or not TBT

Government guns are better than yours. Plus they have more of them and do not fear killing the women and children.

bigkahuna's picture

Yep. They also have claymores, 203s, fragmentation grenades, incindiary grenades, you name it grenades, all mannor of gasses, and they will use these and several other devices to engage and destroy their perceived enemy.

narlah's picture

I have a flashblocker installed on my computer, so flash is loaded only when i say so.

And the firewall ususually helps, not the default one of course.


But more importantnly is the phychology of the player in this chair :) I don't see the ads - all those years of stayng on the computer has made adds - banners or gifs, popups and so on to be practicly invisible for me. No facebook , buzz , myspace or paypal for me (those refused to service me in bulgaria couse it was doubtfull that a bulgarian account wants to buy nepaleese khukries, em). And even in event i got tracked i probably will get a record of "be carefull , he reads zerohedge and does not consume even 10% of our feedstock, he is hopless" :P

i.knoknot's picture

which flash-blocker?

what's a bummer is regardless how much we don't 'see' the banners anymore, they still 'see' us.