Have this ever happened to you? You’re on Google looking for a hoodie just before you go to sleep. You check some prices and then go to sleep afterwards.
Next morning you’re back to your daily routine and throughout the day you start seeing hoodies on Instagram as a promoted post, in Facebook ‘suggested posts’ and as pop up ads on websites you visit.
How does the internet know about your interest in the hoodie and show it everywhere? This is not magic but thanks to the trackers of the web.
In this article we will explain the types of trackers out there on the web and the type of data trackers collect.
What are trackers?
A tracker is a script placed on websites which collects data of a user entering and interacting with the site. Sometimes these scripts are placed purposely by the site admins or in other cases it can be a script from a third party website that you haven’t even visited.
Web trackers can collect more data than just you’re browsing of the website. Websites also use them to collect your personal information: your IP address, where you came from, your geographic location and your browser characteristics.
Understanding the way data is collected by these trackers can help you limit your exposure to trackers in the future.
What can website trackers track?
These are some of the information that the trackers can have about a user just by visiting a website:
- User’s queries in search engines
- The sites the user visits
- The frequency of a user's returning visits to a site
- What the user clicks on
- How long the user stayed on the site
- The speed with which the user scrolls
- Where the user stops
- The movements of the mouse around a webpage
- The comments and reactions the user might add on a site or on social media
- Which OS the user uses
- Which browser or mail program the user uses
- Time the website was visited or the mail was read
- User behavior on the website visited
- IP address and location of the user
- A user's particular configuration
- Their devices setup
- Screen size, resolution and color depth
- Location, time zone and language settings
- Fonts used
- Browser plugin details
Quite a big list but it doesn’t stop here! There are so much more information that can be collected by the use of different types of trackers.
The websites that track you use three main methods (among others):
- embedded scripts
- super cookies
Websites can determine your identity with your login credentials, unique device identifiers or your IP address. Once a site determines your identity, it then assembles all the information it collects about you in a data profile.
The collective information can determine the person, user’s habits and even the user’s interests.
“The internet knows you better than yourself” doesn’t seem so wrong after all.
Types of web trackers
Cookies are small files which are stored in your browser by websites. These cookies help to determine your identity when you visit that website again. This is why you don’t have to login to Facebook every time you go on Facebook.
Cookies can add convenience to the sites you visit often, but unfortunately websites also use them to store your data. While cookies make the experience with the site smooth, it is also used to collect personal information.
Not all cookies are made equal and the websites own cookies (first-party cookies) which are placed to make the interaction with the site smoother. While the third-party cookies will take the data and use it for targeted advertisements or to track you.
Tracking beacons are small transparent “images” which are often 1px by 1px (pixel) which load on web pages or within emails. They are used for tracking and reporting information back to the website admins.
This information is used to determine how many times certain webpages are being viewed. These trackers are also used by advertisers to determine how many impressions (views) their ads got.
While most web beacons doesn’t have any malicious intent, there exist the lesser few which does. Spammers may send emails containing beacons to thousands of email addresses, and then when the email is opened and loaded, it also loads the beacon.
This lets the spammer know that the email address is active and that the user is likely to open more spam email.
Fingerprinting is a different method of tracking which is rather complex. While most trackers stores files in your browser and your computer to get your data, this is done by checking your browser configuration and settings.
This method is getting more and more complex with time. The factors that are used to identify a user’s identity is by taking into account the browser version, monitor size, resolution, operating system and much more.
A super cookie is a browser cookie that can be permanently stored on your computer. Super cookies are harder to detect therefore harder to get rid of unlike the traditional cookies.
By injecting these type of cookies websites can access your personal information, behaviors, preferences and the time your most active on the internet. This next-level data is a goldmine for advertisers who can use the information to create targeted ads based on user profiling and preferences.
There are a number of tracking resources that can be included in a webpage as visible or invisible element. Common examples are pixel trackers that are clear images embedded on a web page or email.
Another one is the tracking scripts that run as you visit websites which can record your IP address and your device specifications among many others.
On a final note what we can say is that you should only opt into the necessary cookies rather than accepting everything without having a second look.
Note that the opt in feature is mandatory in Europe and California due to GDPR and CCPA. Depending where you are accessing the internet this ‘opt in’ feature will not be displayed.
In order to avoid tracking the best call to action would be to get yourself a reliable VPN like VPN Surf. We provide full anonymity and security while you’re surfing the web. At the same time we have a zero log policy so not even we know what you’re doing.
We believe in a free internet with access to all users without any limitations and with full privacy. Don’t let anyone snoop on your activity no longer. Get VPN Surf and surf the open waters of the internet without a worry.
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