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Web tracking is the practice by which operators of websites collect, store and share information about a particular user's activity on the World Wide Web. Analysis of an individual user's behavior may be used to provide content that relates to their implied preferences and may be of interest to various parties.
Some uses for web tracking are:
- Advertising companies actively collect information about users and make profiles that are used to individualize advertisements
- Law enforcement agencies may use web tracking to spy on individuals and solve crime
- Web analytics focuses more on the performance of the website as a whole. Web tracking will give insight on how a website is being used and see how long a user spent on a certain page. This can bee used to see who may have the most interest in the content of your website.
- Usability tests
HTTP cookies are information that is saved by you web browser. When a user visits a website, the site might store a cookie so it can recognize the users device in the future. When the user returns to the site, it can read the cookie to remember the user from the last visit. Cookies can be used to customize the users browsing experience and used to deliver targeted ads.
Third parties insert additional tracking methods to record what you do online. On-site analytics refers to data collection on the current site. It is used to measure many aspects if user interactions including the number of times a user visits.
Web browsing is linked to a user's personal information. Location, interests, purchases, and more can be revealed just by what page a user visits. This allows them to draw conclusions about a user, and analyze patterns of activity. Use of web tracking can be controversial when applied in the context of a private individual; and to varying degrees is subject to legislation such as the EU's eCommerce Directive and the UK's Data Protection Act. When it is done without the knowledge of a user, it may be considered a breach of browser security.
In a business-to-business context, understanding a visitor's behavior in order to identify buying intentions is seen by many commercial organisations as an effective way to target marketing activities. Visiting companies can be approached, both on- and offline, with marketing and sales propositions which are relevant to their current requirements. From the point of view of a sales organisation, engaging with a potential customer when they are actively looking to buy can produce savings in otherwise wasted marketing funds.
There have been solutions for giving users control over third-party web tracking. Opt-out cookies enables users to block websites from installing future cookies. Websites will be told not to install third party advertisers or cookies on your browser which will prevent tracking on the users page. Do Not Track is a web browser setting that can request a web application to disable the tracking of a user.
Contrary to popular belief, browser privacy mode does not prevent (all) tracking attempts because it usually only blocks the storage of information on the visitor site (cookies). It does not help, however, against live data transmissions like the various fingerprinting methods. Such fingerprints can be easily de-anonymized.
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We monitor websites and services to find out what user data companies collect, how they collect it, and what they do with it. With our measurement platform, we study privacy, security, and ethics of consumer data usage
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