Yahoo Groups: Web Beacons track user activity

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader Joe J. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I recently received an email forwarded from a friend via a Yahoo email Group, which states that Yahoo is using 'web beacons' to track Yahoo Group members Internet activity. The email I received follows:

' For your information: Yahoo is now using something called 'Web Beacons' to track Yahoo Group users around the net to see where you visit and what you're doing -- similar to Internet cookie files. Take a look at their updated privacy statement.

About half-way down the page, in the section on cookies, you will see a link that says web beacons. Click on the phrase web beacons; that will bring you to a paragraph entitled 'Outside the Yahoo Network.' In this section you'll see a little 'click here to opt out' link that will let you 'opt-out' of their new method of snooping.

Once you have clicked that link, you are exempted. Notice the 'Success' message on the top of the next page. Be careful because on that Success page there is a 'Cancel Opt-out' button that, if clicked, will *undo* the opt-out. Feel free to forward this to other groups.'

Sure enough, it is there just as the email stated. Can you shed some light on what a web beacon is, what port it uses, how it does it's 'stuff' and how to stop them on your system(s)?

My response:

I looked over the Yahoo Privacy Policy, and they do have a section on Web Beacons; however, the "Effective Date" on the Privacy Policy is listed as March 28th, 2002 -- so I'm not sure how current your email forward is.

According to, a web beacon is "also called a Web bug or a pixel tag or a clear GIF. Used in combination with cookies, a Web beacon is an often-transparent graphic image, usually no larger than 1 pixel x 1 pixel, that is placed on a Web site or in an e-mail that is used to monitor the behavior of the user visiting the Web site or sending the e-mail. When the HTML code for the Web beacon points to a site to retrieve the image, at the same time it can pass along information such as the IP address of the computer that retrieved the image, the time the Web beacon was viewed and for how long, the type of browser that retrieved the image and previously set cookie values." (Source:

Should you be concerned? In my opinion, no. Yahoo is simply using this method as a way to track purchases made by users (compared to the advertisement page-impressions viewed / clicked by users). When all the data is collected, they can then determine which ads perform better in order to generate more revenue.

Is it a dirty trick? Again, I don't think so, as this method of 'tracking' is no more dangerous than a web cookie being placed on your hard drive. But that's just my opinion.

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