Defending your pumpkin from tracker zombies

The real invasive tracker zombies don’t just go away with the Halloween Jack-o-lantern pumpkins. You have to push them out from your device.

Halloween is the quintessential American holiday – but it has now gone global as people look for the best costumes, wilder parties, and pumpkin-pie spice for everything. And it is a global internet phenomena which comes down to two aspects. First, people go online and look for everything Halloween and pumpkin connected. Second, businesses (and cybercriminals) design ad campaigns to capture those people looking for Halloween themes and topics.

No global pumpkin yet

However, despite this global popularity – there are still plenty of regional variations when it comes to Halloween and what to do with a pumpkin. From a regional perspective, the US and England are massively interested in zombie costumes and that pumpkins are almost exclusively used for jack-o-lanterns, not for food. In Central Europe and the DACH area, pumpkins as food (especially soup) and secondarily as Jack-o-lantern ornaments. There is limited obsessive interest in Halloween costumes or pumpkin-pie spice. And that is just the top level view. More interesting details are there, but you might need to pay a data broker for them.

Trackers search for the Great Pumpkin

Halloween and pumpkins show how trackers, search terms, and search engine optimization could be used in an online marketing campaign – and how it could step over the line of invading your privacy. Data available from Google Trends is just a teaser. But, even this basic data is enough to tell you that Germans search for pumpkin information on Saturday and Sunday – while Americans peak on Sunday night. Just think of what a more sophisticated bit of data mining might discover? Perhaps this would be enough to identify what populations or regions prefer savory or sweet pumpkin recipes. And if you could get data on the other search topics of those looking for pumpkin soup recipes, you might get a better look at the entire holiday meal: Turkey, gravy, dressing. Even some hints about the most popular, sought-after pie crust recipes.

How much did that pumpkin really cost?

Sure, jack-o-lanterns and piñatas are fun, but what about the cost to your privacy? Does your ISP need to know what kind of soup you like? Should you have a legal right to search for pumpkin recipes in the privacy of your home – without seeing adds for connected products pop up on your device. Just think about how little it would take for pumpkins to invade your private space in the internet. By putting together various searches, the subsequent data might tell you that Americans are looking for carved pumpkin designs, Austrians love a traditional pumpkin soup with potatoes and garlic, and Berliners like their soup with curry and coconut milk. This would enable unbeatable advertisements: American carving kits for the ultimate jack-o-lantern, coupons for Lintz pumpkin seed oil, and an expanded offering for Indian cuisine and spices.

How social is your pumpkin?

Trackers could get even more focused if they sifted through social media postings in addition to your straight browser searches. And if all your social media or browser accounts have been synced, data miners could link the trip to the pumpkin patch with your cooking back home – even if you had used a tablet in the kitchen and a smart phone for the trip.

Take the spook out of Halloween

On Halloween, trackers are following everything you are doing online – whether this is buying, carving, or eating pumpkins. Like it or not, this data is being used to create a profile of you as a consumer. In Europe, you can try to use the GDPR regulations and force companies to remove the private data that they have accumulated about you. But in America, you basically have no right to online privacy – despite what a few states such as California and Vermont are doing. But regardless of your current location, the real question is how much you are willing to let this tracking and profiling go on. For better online privacy in the Pumpkin Patch of the internet, it is your choice to send these trackers two distinct messages:

1. Don’t follow me. Block out trackers as well as ads and malicious URLs with Avira Browser Safety. You also might want to try Privacy Badger from EFF.org. The critical idea here is to know what trackers are following you and then have the choice — and ability — to block them.

2. You can’t see me. Use a VPN to put your online activity into an encrypted envelope. This gives you much greater security and privacy when using a public WiFi and also keeps your ISP from easily reading and mining your online activity.

 

 

As a PR Consultant and journalist, Frink has covered IT security issues for a number of security software firms, as well as provided reviews and insight on the beer and automotive industries (but usually not at the same time). Otherwise, he’s known for making a great bowl of popcorn and extraordinary messes in a kitchen.