TikTok Tracks You Across the Web, Even If You Don’t Use the App

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Consumer Reports: A Consumer Reports investigation finds that TikTok, one of the country's most popular apps, is partnering with a growing number of other companies to hoover up data about people as they travel across the internet. That includes people who don't have TikTok accounts. These companies embed tiny TikTok trackers called "pixels" in their websites. Then TikTok uses the information gathered by all those pixels to help the companies target ads at potential customers, and to measure how well their ads work. To look into TikTok's use of online tracking, CR asked the security firm Disconnect to scan about 20,000 websites for the company's pixels. In our list, we included the 1,000 most popular websites overall, as well as some of the biggest sites with domains ending in ".org," ".edu," and ".gov." We wanted to look at those sites because they often deal with sensitive subjects. We found hundreds of organizations sharing data with TikTok. If you go to the United Methodist Church's main website, TikTok hears about it. Interested in joining Weight Watchers? TikTok finds that out, too. The Arizona Department of Economic Security tells TikTok when you view pages concerned with domestic violence or food assistance. Even Planned Parenthood uses the trackers, automatically notifying TikTok about every person who goes to its website, though it doesn't share information from the pages where you can book an appointment. (None of those groups responded to requests for comment.) The number of TikTok trackers we saw was just a fraction of those we observed from Google and Meta. However, TikTok's advertising business is exploding, and experts say the data collection will probably grow along with it. After Disconnect researchers conducted a broad search for TikTok trackers, we asked them to take a close look at what kind of information was being shared by 15 specific websites. We focused on sites where we thought people would have a particular expectation of privacy, such as advocacy organizations and hospitals, along with retailers and other kinds of companies. Disconnect found that data being transmitted to TikTok can include your IP address, a unique ID number, what page you're on, and what you're clicking, typing, or searching for, depending on how the website has been set up. What does TikTok do with all that information? "Like other platforms, the data we receive from advertisers is used to improve the effectiveness of our advertising services," says Melanie Bosselait, a TikTok spokesperson. The data "is not used to group individuals into particular interest categories for other advertisers to target." If TikTok receives data about someone who doesn't have a TikTok account, the company only uses that data for aggregated reports that they send to advertisers about their websites, she says. There's no independent way for consumers or privacy researchers to verify such statements. But TikTok's terms of service say its advertising customers aren't allowed to send the company certain kinds of sensitive information, such as data about children, health conditions, or finances. "We continuously work with our partners to avoid inadvertent transmission of such data," TikTok's Bosselait says. What can you do to protect your personal information? Consumer Reports recommends using privacy-protecting browser extensions like Disconnect, changing your browser's privacy settings to block trackers, and trying a more private browser like Firefox and Brave.

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Intel’s Self-Driving Technology Mobileye Unit Files for IPO

Intel has filed for an initial public offering of its self-driving technology business, Mobileye Global, braving the worst market for new US listings since the financial crisis more than a decade ago. Bloomberg reports: The company didn't disclose terms of the planned share sale in its filing Friday with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Mobileye will continue to be controlled by Intel after the IPO, according to the filing. Intel expects the IPO to value Mobileye at as much as $30 billion, less than originally hoped, Bloomberg News reported this month. If the listing goes ahead this year, it would be one of the biggest US offerings of 2022. Currently, only two companies have raised $1 billion or more on New York exchanges since Jan. 1, compared with 45 in 2021. This year, the US share of IPOs has shrunk to less then a seventh of the global total from half in 2021. Intel Chief Executive Officer Pat Gelsinger is trying to capitalize on Jerusalem-based Mobileye, acquired in 2017 for $15 billion, with a partial spinoff of its shares. Mobileye makes chips for cameras and drive-assistance features, and is seen as a prized asset as the car industry races toward fully automated vehicles. Now with about 3,100 employees, Mobileye has collected data from 8.6 billion miles on the road from eight testing sites globally, according to its filing. The company says its technology leads in the race to shift the automotive industry away from human drivers. It's shipped 117 million units of its EyeQ product. Mobileye has been a particularly bright spot for Intel and has consistently grown faster than its parent. As of July, it had $774 million of cash and cash equivalents. In the 12 months ended Dec. 25, it had a net loss of $75 million on revenue of $1.39 billion. The company said it plans to use proceeds from the IPO to pay down debt and for working capital and general corporate purposes.

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Stadia Controllers Could Become E-Waste Unless Google Issues Bluetooth Update

With Stadia coming to an abrupt halt, gamers want Google to issue a software update for the controllers that unlocks Bluetooth to allow them to work wirelessly with other game systems. It would also "avoid a lot of plastic and circuit board trash," adds Ars. From the report: Stadia's controllers were custom-made to connect directly to the Internet, reducing lag and allowing for instant firmware updates and (sometimes painful) connections to smart TVs. There's Bluetooth inside the Stadia controller, but it's only used when you're setting up Stadia, either with a TV, a computer with the Chrome browser, or a Chromecast Ultra. The Google Store's page for the Stadia controller states in a footnote: "Product contains Bluetooth Classic radio. No Bluetooth Classic functionality is enabled at this time. Bluetooth Classic may be implemented at a later date." (Bluetooth Classic is a more traditional version of Bluetooth than modern low-energy or mesh versions.) That potential later date can't get much later for fans of the Stadia controller. Many cite the controller's hand feel and claim it as their favorite. They'd like to see Google unlock Bluetooth to make their favorite something more than a USB-only controller and avoid a lot of plastic and circuit board trash. "Now if you'd just enable Bluetooth on the controller, we could help the environment by not letting them become electronic waste," writes Roadrunner571 on one of many controller-related threads on the r/Stadia subreddit. "They created trash and they at least owe it to me to do their best within reason to prevent millions of otherwise perfectly good controllers from filling landfills," another wrote. Many have called for Google, if they're not going to push a firmware update themselves to unlock the functionality, to open up access to the devices themselves, so the community can do it for them. That's often a tricky scenario for large companies relying on a series of sub-contracted manufacturers to produce hardware. Some have suggested that the full refunds give Google more leeway to ignore the limited function of their devices post-shutdown. It's worth noting that you can still plug a Stadia controller into the USB port on a Smart TV, computer, or gaming console and use it as a controller through a standard HID (Human Interface Device) connection. But, currently, it's not possible to connect the controllers wirelessly, unless you go through a lot of effort.

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