Internet tracking is the analysis of online users’ behaviors, generally for the purpose of delivering a more personalized browsing experience. It’s also referred to as browser tracking, digital tracking, data tracking, or web tracking. In simpler terms, internet tracking is how websites study our behavior when we visit them.
And it’s more common than you might think, as 85 percent of websites apparently do it. Worth mentioning is that website tracking is not illegal, but it’s also not widely understood. So what exactly happens when a website tracks you?
Generally, data is collected about your interactions with the site – including the pages you visit, the links you click on, and how long you spend on each page. This data is then used to build a profile about you, which is used to deliver targeted content and ads.
So, for example, if you’re visiting a website about travel, you might see ads for travel deals or products. Or, if you’re visiting a news site, you might see ads for products or services that are relevant to the stories you’re reading.
Few more reason why they track you:
- To create revenue streams: There are a lot of websites out there that collect user data. Some of these websites might sell this data to advertising companies. These companies can then use this data to target you with relevant products. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you feel about being targeted with ads. Some people might find it annoying, while others might appreciate being shown ads that are actually relevant to them.
- To help aid law enforcement: There is no doubt that law enforcement agencies have increasingly been monitoring online user behaviors in order to spy on suspicious individuals. This has been done in an attempt to thwart potential terrorist attacks and other criminal activities. While some people may view this as a violation of their privacy, it is important to remember that these agencies are only trying to protect the public. In many cases, the information that is gathered through online monitoring is essential in catching criminals and preventing crimes.
- To measure business performance: Businesses use website analytics to understand what consumers are interested in and engage with most on their sites. This information helps businesses to develop their content strategy and release products that are most likely to be of interest to their consumers. By understanding what consumers want and providing it, businesses can build a loyal customer base and increase their chances of success.
- To monitor a website’s usability: Keeping a close eye on how website visitors engage with a website can help websites pinpoint and correct any areas that are falling short. This can be done through website analytics, which track things like how long visitors stay on a page, what links they click on, and what pages they visit most often. By understanding how visitors interact with a website, website owners and designers can make changes to improve the user experience and increase conversion rates.
Commonly used data tracking methods today, Including what user data they collect:
- Cookies: Tracking cookies are small text files that are used to store information about a user’s browsing activity on a website or across related websites. This data can include the pages a user visits, the time spent on each page, and the links clicked. Tracking cookies are used to track a user’s online activity over time and across different websites. This data can be used to target ads and content to a user based on their interests.
- Cross-Site Tracking Cookies: Cross-site tracking cookies can be extremely annoying, especially if you’re seeing the same ads over and over again. These cookies follow you as you browse different websites and can even be used to track you across different devices. While they may be useful for some purposes, they can also be a privacy concern and may result in advertisers showing you the same ads over and over again.
- Fingerprinters: Fingerprinters are also online trackers but way more advanced, creepier and dangerous on matters privacy. Fingerprinters usually track your moves on the internet, some despite of specifying on your browser the “Do Not Track” option (Depending on your browser), with the aim to create a digital fingerprint. A digital fingerprint is a creation by of a fingerprinter that contains very detailed information on the subjects (users) such as your browser type, your browsing habits, browser preferences, browser add-ons, your computer model and computer specifications (monitor size, etc.) among other details meant to identify you even when using private browsing and/or different browsers.
- Social Media Trackers: These are trackers courtesy of social media companies who are really interested in your life beyond your pretty little lies or truth in their social media platforms. Therefore, their main aim is to track you around to see you, beyond what you have chosen to share with them and thus to know what you do outside of your social media life. In other words, social media companies are constantly monitoring your online and offline activities in order to better target ads and content at you. This includes tracking your location, the websites you visit, the apps you use, and even your conversations. So even if you’re not sharing the nitty-gritty details of your life on social media, the companies behind these platforms still know a lot about you.
- Web beacons: Tracking beacons, also known as web bugs or simply tracking pixels, are tiny bits of code that are embedded in webpages or email messages. When you visit a webpage or open an email, the tracking pixel is activated and sends information back to the server about your activity. This information can be used to track how you engage with a specific webpage, including which content you click on. Tracking pixels can also be used in email exchanges to determine if a message has been received or opened.
- IP-addresses: IP addresses are assigned to every device that connects to the internet. This includes computers, smartphones, tablets, and any other internet-connected devices. When you visit a website, that website can track your activity by looking up your IP address. This is how websites are able to keep track of your browsing history and tailor their content to your interests. While this can be useful in some cases, it can also be a privacy concern.
- Session replay scripts: Session replay scripts are programs that record a website visitor’s activity on a website, including their mouse movement, clicks, and scrolls. This information can be used to replay the session and understand what the visitor was doing on the website. This can be useful for troubleshooting problems or for understanding how visitors interact with the website.
- Fevicons: Favicons are small images that are displayed in the browser’s address bar next to the website’s URL. They are considered supercookies in that they operate similarly to traditional cookies but are much more difficult to decline or remove.
- Account tracking: Account tracking is a way for websites and online platforms to keep tabs on your online activity while you are logged into a specific account. This information can be used to personalize your experience on the site or platform, or for targeted advertising. In most cases, you must give permission for account tracking to occur.
- Mouse tracking: Cursor tracking is a data tracking software that records online users’ mouse movements to analyze how they interact with a website.
- Browser fingerprinting: Browser fingerprinting stitches together information about your device — including its operating system, language preferences, time zone, etc. — to create a unique identifier that’s used to trace all of your online activity. This can also be conducted through canvas fingerprinting, which recognizes your HTML5 canvas elements. Canvas fingerprinting is used to track your online activity and collect data about you without your knowledge or consent. This information can be used to target you with ads, track your online behavior, and even steal your identity.
- Cross-device tracking: Cross-device tracking is a method of tracking your online activity across multiple devices. This can be done either by matching up your browsing habits across devices, or by using probabilistic methods to infer your activity. Cross-device tracking can be used for a variety of purposes, including targeted advertising and personalization. However, it can also be a privacy concern, as it can allow companies to build up a detailed profile of your online activity.
- Click-through rate: Click-through rate is a measure of how often an online user clicks on and visits a piece of content that is suggested or advertised to them.
- Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC): Federated Learning of Cohorts is a type of web tracking. It groups people into “cohorts” based on their browsing history for the purpose of interest-based advertising.