How a lone grad student scooped the government—and what it means for your online privacy

The FTC is ill-equipped to find out what companies like Google and Facebook are doing behind the scenes.

(Editor’s note: As the FTC tries to protect consumers’ online privacy—by publishing a report targeting the data-collection practices of mobile apps for kids, for instance, and launching a voluntary Do Not Track program for tech companies—an investigative report from the nonprofit journalism service ProPublica reveals how hamstrung the agency is in these efforts. Here’s ProPublica’s report, which was co-published with Wired.)

Jonathan Mayer had a hunch.

A gifted computer scientist, Mayer suspected that online advertisers might be getting around browser settings that are designed to block tracking devices known as cookies. If his instinct was right, advertisers were following people as they moved from one website to another even though their browsers were configured to prevent this sort of digital shadowing.…Read More