Ad Trackers on Online Stores can be used to De-Anonymize Bitcoin Transactions

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Hacker's anonymous mask on a laptop
Recent research reveals that ad trackers used by e-commerce websites help dispel the anonymity of digital currencies like Bitcoin.

Recently, a research report was published revealing that data collected by ad trackers in online stores can actually de-anonymize digital currency like Bitcoin.

It’s easy for people who make Bitcoin transactions to hide their identity while buying various products online.

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But with the new research report, it seems that the online platform can actually help to dispel that same anonymity.

Bitcoin is fairly transparent due to its very nature as a digital currency.

But at the same time, the anonymity it provides encourages criminals to prefer it over traditional currency, which can be easily tracked by the authorities.

Strange as it may sound, Bitcoin, in reality, provides far less anonymity than other cryptocurrencies, but criminals seem to prefer it over the rest.

With this recent discovery, they might start to consider using other digital currencies to make illicit transactions.

How Ad Trackers Can Reveal One’s Identity

E-commerce websites or online stores contain cookies which basically collect data on users of the site.

This data can help provide information on what users purchase, common price levels, addresses and, of course, emails.

Usually, most online stores share this collected data with advertising companies since the information synergizes well for both parties.

The ad companies can then analyze the data to deliver target-specific ads to users, increasing the chances they will click on ads.

This, in turn, helps the store increase its revenue, depending on the number of successful clicks.

Though collecting this data helps the store better understand its customer base, the information can be abused by online attackers or aggregated by law enforcement agencies for any investigational purpose.

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The aggregation of this data can actually help investigators come up with accurate profiles of the online users—based on what a person might buy, the amount they spend, their address, etc.

This information can reveal a lot about a person, especially if it’s collected by someone trained in the science of profiling.

A digital currency like Bitcoin is favored by many people all over the world because it provides an anonymous cover, unlike traditional currencies.

However, the commercial application of Bitcoin transactions ironically removes that very anonymity.

The data collected by cookies not only reveal someone’s identity but also provides clues to help identify an individual.

With this recent discovery, law enforcement agencies around the world can now investigate suspicious Bitcoin transactions in a much easier way.

Findings of the Study

The research that led to this discovery was carried out by a team from Princeton University.

They analyzed over 130 different online stores from 20 countries all over the world where people are allowed to make Bitcoin transactions.

The team then took a closer look at how online stores handle these transactions and how high of a chance the data could get leaked in the process.

    Some of those findings include:
  • Out of 130 stores, 53 of them leaked the data collected to third parties.
  • Out of 130 stores, 32 of them leaked email addresses.
  • Out of 130 stores, 15 of them leaked username information.
  • Out of 130 stores, 13 of them leaked user shipping addresses.
  • Out of 130 stores, 12 of them leaked Bitcoin user’s addresses.
  • Out of 130 stores, 11 of them leaked Bitcoin prices paid for purchases.
  • Out of 130 stores, 107 of them granted third-party scripts access to transaction information.
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A team from Princeton University did the research

This kind of data can play a very important role in figuring a person’s identity.

While a single transaction will not uncover much, data collected over time and repeated purchases can inform a pretty solid profile.

However, even though these recent findings can greatly help in catching crooks hiding Bitcoin transactions, the same data can be easily abused by an attacker as well.

And in reality, most people don’t realize the significance of how much data is collected when they visit an online store.

You don’t need to be a registered member of a website for the system to collect your data.

Even browsers have cookies that can tell what kind of device you use.

This data can either be used in a positive way to expand business and better connect with target customers, or it can be abused to take people’s identities and even steal their money.

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