URL shorteners or link shorteners are a useful tool for marketing or just to share links. However, do they sometimes hide other features? And is that Luke Miles, a software engineer Independent, said in a blog post You noticed URL shorteners setting ad tracking cookies.
For those who are still unaware of URL shorteners, you should know that they are tools that create a relatively short and unique URL that will redirect to the specific website of your choice.
They basically make a URL shorter and easier and will generally include the shortened site address and a random letter mix. In some cases, you can even customize this mini URL with a custom phrase.
URL shorteners work by creating a redirect to your long url. By entering a URL in your internet browser, an HTTP request is sent to the web server to find a specific website.
Specifically, these services they work by replacing a url with a new domain (eg mysite.com can be converted to bit.ly) and the permalink is replaced with a string of numbers and / or letters.
So far, everything is fine, but according to Miles, some URL shorteners set ad tracking cookies
Since you mentioned that family members shared a minimized link with him using tinyurl.com over Christmas.
This link was supposed to take you directly to a Zoom chat, but when you clicked the link, your url bar showed an intermediary domain which was neither Zoom nor TinyURL.
Later he used cURL to see where that URL actually went (cURL is used in command lines or scripts to transfer data).
Miles discovered that the tinyurl.com redirect sent him to VigLink, an advertising (tracking) company based in San Francisco, USA specializing in affiliate marketing. But that is not all; You also discovered that TinyURL installed cookies on your computer without your consent.
“Of course, the redirect was not clean at all. TinyURL first sent me to VigLink. Following the redirect in cURL reveals another nasty fact. VigLink sets cookies before sending me to the intended destination on Zoom, ”Miles said in his explanatory post.
He believes that these cookies give them the ability to follow you on all other sites that use your advertising technology and therefore collect data related to your browsing history.
"Who knows what VigLink does with my data, but personally I would not trust an advertising company to keep my browsing history to themselves," he said.
In addition, TinyURL has not given you the option to opt out of this tracking, despite being currently located in Europe, where digital service providers must leave the choice to internet users for tracking or data collection.
According to Miles, several more common URL shorteners, such as t.co (Twitter) and bit.ly, set cookies when you click on a link. While none will redirect you to an advertising company like TinyURL, Twitter's primary business model is advertising.
Miles thinks we should stop using them, although on the other hand it mentions that if the user feels obliged to use them, it recommends adding extensions to their browser that may limit the monitoring or data collection by these services.
Don't use URL shorteners. And if you click on a link from a URL shortcut, I recommend using tools like Firefox's temporary containers extension to limit the reach of ad tracking. Personally, I took the time to send Sovrn (VigLink's parent company) a GDPR request and made sure to give them my tracking cookie, ”he said.