Chapter Twenty Three. Privacy Analysis for the Casual User with Bugnosis

David Martin

BUGNOSIS[1]is a privacy analysis tool for the typical end user. Like Privacy Bird (described in the previous chapter), Bugnosis is a benevolent snoop: it taps into your web browser so that it can deduce the privacy characteristics of the web sites you visit. It uses some of the same Internet Explorer facilities as Privacy Bird, and presents results with a similar balance of approachability and charm as opposed to technical detail. But these two IE add-ons are concerned with different parts of the web privacy question. Privacy Bird uses the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) to decide whether a web site’s privacy policy is consistent with the user’s desires, and Bugnosis identifies a particular type of web site privacy practice—one that says a lot about the nature of the Web—namely, the use of web bugs to gather information about web users.[2]


Briefly, web bugs are invisible elements on a web page used to record the fact that the page was visited, and sometimes to communicate additional information about the user or computer doing the viewing. It can be pretty hard to say what the purpose of a particular web bug is without looking at the ultimate processing of the data that it helps gather, and Bugnosis doesn’t even try. Rather, Bugnosis just helps to drive home this simple fact: the Web isn’t just a glimmering, clickable newspaper. The Web watches you read.

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