Are you surprised, when after you switch websites, ads for products you’ve just look at, or products you looked at a few weeks ago appear as a pop up window? I was confused, at first, because I thought how can someone know what I’m looking at from Website to Website? Obviously, someone is tracking my movements. I liked my illusion of privacy and was stunned to see how wrong I was. It was then, I remembered a Google announcement that played across my screen asking “Do you want ads that target your interests or ads about anything?” This was followed up with a caveat: No matter which you pick- you will see ads, but there will be less of them with targeted ones. Well, I said to myself, if I have to see them they might as well be pertinent so I picked the ads that target my interests.
Now, I am rethinking my choice as I wonder where it will end. Let’s say, for instance, if I look up information on a health issue will I then be seeing ads offering miracle cures? I don’t know just how deep into my life this tracking goes- that they could even have a clue about my medical history is chilling to me. How accurate is the information they gather or is it guess work? I didn’t know how to answer that question-basically, who is data mining my personal statistics and preferences, and why? This Website attempts to answer that question, but with Technology advancing so rapidly what I find out today could be wrong tomorrow- so forgive me.
First question is why do we have tracking?
Advertisement- ads pay the salary of the people who work for the Search Engines; they need revenue to stay in Business. However, people complained about the ads presented to them as being irrelevant and thus annoying. Companies started tracking people and mining the collected data to render a picture of the browser in order to send ads based on the mined information- ads chosen specifically for the browser. Targeted ads mean fewer ads or so advertisers promise.
If we do away with Advertisements showing up on the websites we frequent, then we move into the subscription payment to pay for the website’s development and updates. Not all that easy a payment to implement as you would need a separate subscription for every website you visited. Plus, after surfing for free how many people will start paying several subscriptions- let alone trying to keep track of it all?
Several Trackers invisibly abide on most websites without informing the Browser that they will be tracked from the moment they opened the website. One tracker may be there to give the website owner information about their website traffic, but others belong to Data Miners (data brokers) whose mission is to profile you: age, geographic location, what website interests you, what you read, and subjects searched for. This information is then archived and sold to advertisers, nonprofits, companies, or even governments. The companies that track you are unrelated to the website your visiting some of their names are: DoubleClick, owned by Google, ComScore, and cXense. Some common images most people don’t even realize are trackers are Google’s red G+ button, Facebook’s “like” thumb is a tracker, and Twitter’s little blue bird is also a tracker.
For example, say you visit Fox News yesterday, visited the Mayo Clinic website this morning, then went to Amazon in the afternoon and made a purchase. All of this information is collected as a chronologically ordered list of all the marketing touchpoints experienced by an individual user. All this information is assigned first to your IP address, but now with the cloud connecting all of your devices and google maps running on your phone it could further Identify you to a religious, political, economic strata, and the biggest catch of all would identify your values per your Facebook page.
The following are some of the means of tracking a web browser’s interactions or even their geographical location through data mining:
A Cookie is:
When the internet became more popular, cookies were used to verify whether a user had visited the site before, to remember your log in information or what you had been shopping for. Cookies are pieces of code embedded on Websites that when visited by a user will transfer a cookie file to the browser file on your computer’s hard disk so that the website can remember who you are when you next visit the site.
Cookies have six measurable factors that can be passed to them:
- The name of the cookie.
- The value of the cookie
- The expiration date of the cookie- how long the cookie will remain active in your browser.
- The domain the cookie is valid for- means the cookie is valid to pages on any of the servers when a site uses multiple servers in a domain.
- The path the cookie is valid for- the URL the cookie is valid in. Web pages outside of that path cannot use the cookie.
- The need for a secure connection- indicates that the cookie can only be used under a secure server condition, such as a site using SSL which encrypts your site to protect credit card number or other sensitive information.
What are Click Redirects.
Click Redirects is used when the domain or website has changed its URL for example when changing website hosts or some domains will buy the common misspelling of its domain name and redirect to the corrected domain. For Media running outside of the website, such as a YouTube video a Click will redirect you conveniently to that specific video on YouTube’s domain. For someone without an anti-virus program a virus redirect infection can be a big problem- meaning every time you put in a search it leads you to the same site. For the most part the Click Redirects serve as a convenience to the Browser.
What is a Tracking Pixel?
A Pixel is a tiny, invisible-to-the eye picture element that is the smallest unit of the image that was recorded on a 2-dimensional grid. Usually round or square in shape the greater number you have the better the image resembles the original, and the larger you can enlarge the pictures without it becoming blurry.
These very small (almost can’t see them) pixel tags or GIF images are not serviced from the site’s domain but rather the advertiser domain. This means the information is gathered by a third party without the Browser’s knowledge.
The very sophisticated ways in which internet browsers are being tracked no longer rely on ‘cookies’ because they can be removed. The Flash Cookie that use Adobe’s flash player to store information about your online browsing activities are being used in tandem with cookies because they also note your settings and preferences. Companies will place unique HTML5 cookies within a browser’s local storage to identify a user over time. The Flash Cookie is used for device finger printing which over time will track your devices by using your browser’s configurations and settings. You generate some of your configurations and settings through choices which will form a unique configuration to allow advertising companies to track what you do in order to target ads to your interests. For example, you like to search out cooking programs so the advertising company sells your information to a company that sells cookware then you began to see ads targeted to your interests in cooking.
How fingerprinting can follow you across devices.
Most people travel the internet with more than one device such as a laptop and mobile phone. A website tracker will notice over time that there are two different devices over and over again connecting from the same set of IP addresses. Over time, they will infer statistically that this pattern of internet travel could not have happened several times by separate individuals so it must be that these two devices belong to the same individual- kind of a gotcha moment.
“Fingerprinting” isn’t trying to determine info about your computer. It is using your computer to orchestrate an image, which renders differently for every computer depending on a combination of factors.
The same text can be rendered in different ways on different computers depending on the operating system, font library, graphics card, graphics driver, and the browser. This may be due to the difference in the computer’s video adjustments to display the needed font, such as anti-aliasing, hinting, or sub-pixel smoothing, differences in system fonts, API implementations or even the physical display.
Simply put, the images your computer orchestrates is extraordinarily specific to your computer. As soon as, that information is gathered, it acts as a fingerprint. Thus, whenever a website using this method of data mining finds a fingerprint that matches a previous one, that browsing activity is linked with the former building more complete image of who you are. Finally, a finger print gotten from a website that can deduce your identity will link your web browsing practices to a name which shatters any illusion that you might be able to use the web without surveillance.
This is not totally without error as there are millions of users using about 5,000 of the most popular websites on the internet, but the data mining is gaining more information as time goes on making that fingerprint even more accurate.