Since the birth of the internet, website analytics and tracking software has constantly evolved and gotten more complex. Used mainly for business and marketing, most data collection software can account various details about a visitor whenever the website is visited. In today’s post, we will review some common items that many of the net’s most popular websites collect from their users and visitors.
Browsing history is collected and analyzed by various websites. As far as purpose, browsing history is obtained mainly for product marketing and as many website policies would state, to present you with more relevant advertisements.
For example, if you browse the web for “cool t-shirts,” then many websites such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, eBay, etc… may collect previous browsing history via cookies and other browser based technologies. From here, they may attempt to place advertisements relevant to “cool t-shirts” on the webpages that you visit in an attempt to get you to ultimately purchase a t-shirt.
– How it works
The specific analytic equations and programs that track browsing history are likely quite complex, but for the most part, websites track browsing history using two main methods:
Tracking Cookies and Locally Stored Analytic Deployments
- With tracking cookies and similar programs, history is tracked directly, locally from a computer. With cookies placed on a PC, more specifically the browser, websites can compile browsing history.
- Preventative action – Set your browser’s settings to reject tracking cookies. This is not always simple because you often times must have cookies enabled in order to use some websites. Specialty privacy plugins are also a good choice, as many of these plugins delete all locally stored cookies upon closing/exiting the browser, or ending a browsing session.
- In-website history collection occurs mostly on websites in which you have an account. For example, Facebook, eBay, Amazon, etc… When signed in to an account on a website, analytics programs attempt to collect browsing history through dedicated website monitoring software. Thus, clearing your browser’s cookies will not have any effect on in-website browsing history collection.
- Preventative action – Many websites that you have a user account on may have an opt-out setting that you can use to stop browsing history collection. Alternatively, if a website does not offer this feature, then there may not be a way to disable the website’s browsing history collection. In using the website, the website may collect data regarding browsing habits, is something that is included in many website’s policies… in terms that are so technical that often times they are ignored.
>Many websites collect IP addresses which are simply a dedicated number that is assigned to each individual computer on a network. Practically every computer that is connected to the internet has an IP address. So, what does this series of numbers that make up the IP address tell you?
Mainly, the location of the computer. However, IP address locations for the most part only provide a rough geographical estimate, which we have outlined in this article. So, if a website or even an individual has your IP address, they can generally find out the location of the computer as far as city and state. However getting the actual address and specific GPS coordinates of a computer’s IP address is a bit more technical and cannot be done simply by using a Google search, in most cases.
As the website whatismyipaddress.com, an IP address lookup service, states:
The country accuracy is estimated at about 99%. For IP addresses in the United States, it is 90% accurate on the state level, and 81% accurate within a 25 mile radius. Our world-wide users indicate 60% accurate within 25 miles.
The above statement is very simplistic and can be attributed to basic IP address lookups that one might find on the net. However, law enforcement agencies and government agencies do have the technology to track a computer’s actual GPS coordinates, much more closely than the 25 miles that is stated by the website.
Alternatively, many social networking websites such as Facebook offer location based apps and services. For example, if you have the check-ins feature active on your Facebook account, Facebook can track your location and post to your profile regarding the places you have visited.
If you are a smartphone owner, then you probably are aware that many of the apps that you use also require and must ask for permission to use your location.
Contacts, Friends, Associates and Family Members
Many websites use analytics to collect data regarding contacts, friends, associates, and family members. This is a newer technology compared to what we’ve mentioned in this article thus far. Complex monitoring and analytics programs based on multiple series of algorithms attempt to compute the relationship between you and other people that you associate with. Facebook does a lot of this. In collecting this data, Facebook may attempt to categorize your relationship with the person using items like frequency of contact, duration of contact, relationship to you, common interests, etc.
From there, they likely again could use this for business/marketing purposes, but as many tech gurus would describe, this is just data-collection to be collecting data. Yeah, it’s supposed to help make Facebook a better social network, but if you want to do that get rid of Timeline and allow users full-complete privacy controls for every piece of data you record… and present it in a simple, easy to understand settings interface.
For further example, cloud services such as iCloud are used to store your contacts and address book details. By backing up a smartphone to the cloud, you are storing all of your contacts, friends, associates and family members names, addresses and other details on someone else’s server.
Appearance and Advanced Profiling
This is another newer trend that is more in development than it is actually deployed. Apple was one of the first companies to incorporate facial recognition software into their popular photo editing software iPhoto, which attempts to scan a photo of you. From there, the software can artificially attempt to guess at other photos you are pictured in using facial recognition technology. Used mainly for tagging purposes, facial recognition started as a way of auto-tagging photos.
This technology has reached the web, though and now it is used by many social networking websites, mainly Facebook. You of course provide your name to Facebook when you create an account, and from there, Facebook technology can guess at photos in an attempt to auto-tag its users.
Name, Address, Phone Number and other details
The web is simply not a very safe place and many companies and websites sometimes sell your contact information to other companies for marketing purposes. For example, if you sign up for a website and enter your name, phone number, address and other details, that information could then be potentially sold to other websites and businesses so that they can attempt to market their products to you.
User Provided Details
Of course, any information that you provide to a website, they will have, and they will likely store on company servers.
Although not a tutorial, today’s post was meant to be an awareness post that describes how websites and other technology based services collect and use visitor and user data. If any of our site visitors have found any other relevant items that websites collect, feel free to leave a comment! Thank you for stopping by the site for today’s post.