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A defect as old as the web

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A new website aims to draw increased attention to one of the web's longest-running privacy defects: The ability for any site owner to effortlessly steal a compete copy of your recent browsing history.

As we've pointed out before, the problem is as old as the world wide web itself, and unless people take precautions, it afflicts all browsers. Developers have long been aware of the problem, but have been concerned that fixing the massive privacy drawback would break other parts of the user experience.

Enter Start Panic, a website that demonstrates just how easy it is for a webmaster to detect every website contained in your browser history. When we clicked on the "Let's Start" button, it revealed 96 destinations visited in the past few weeks, many we forgot we'd even been to.

As we've said so many times before, the NoScript add-on to Firefox is a useful way to protect yourself against potentially abusive websites. Indeed, Start Panic's snoop script was rendered impotent until NoScript was instructed to allow the site to run javascript. We're still dumbfounded Internet Explorer doesn't offer a similar capability. (Opera has ways to limit javascript by site, but they aren't nearly as easy to use).

Start Panic invites visitors to sign a petition that demands developers once and for all fix their browsers. Ironically, we could find no information on the site saying what it does or doesn't do with the name and email address it collects. Given the site already knows where you've been, you may want to think twice about telling it who you are. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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