Web tracking

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 behaviour may be used to provide content that relates to their implied preferences and may be of interest to various parties.[1]

Some uses for web tracking are:

  • Advertising companies actively collect information about users and make profiles that are used to individualize advertisements. User activities include websites visited, watched videos, interactions on social network, and online transactions. Websites like Netflix collect information of what shows users watch which help them suggest more shows that they might like. Search engines like Google will keep a record of what users search for which could help them suggest more relevant searches in the future.[2]
  • 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 be used to see who may have the most interest in the content of your website.[3]
  • Usability tests is the practice of testing how easy a design is to use. Users are observed as they complete tasks.[4] This would help identify usability problems with a design so they can be fixed.

Ways of Web TrackingEdit

IP addresses is what identifies users on the internet. Websites can determine a user's geographical location from your IP address. [5] Every device connected to the internet is assigned their own IP address that allows devices to communicate with one another. The IP address is a core component on how the internet works, and because of the uniqueness of the IP address, they can be used to track you.[6]

HTTP cookies are information that is saved by your web browser. When a user visits a website, the site might store a cookie so it can recognise 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 customise the users browsing experience and used to deliver targeted ads.[7] Some browsing activities that cookies can store are:

  • Pages and content you looked at
  • What you searched online
  • When you clicked on an online advertisement
  • What time you visited a site

First party cookies are created by the domain the user is visiting. These are the cookies that are considered good. They help provide a better experience for users.

Third parties are created by sites other than the one users are visiting. They 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 of user interactions including the number of times a user visits.[8]


  • Canvas fingerprinting allows websites to identify and track users using HTML5 canvas elements instead of using a browser cookie.[9]
  • Cross-device tracking are used by advertisers to help identify which channels are most successful in helping convert browsers into buyers.[10]
  • Click-through rate is used by advertisers to measure the number of clicks they receive on their ads per number of impressions.
  • Mouse tracking collects the users mouse cursor positions on the computer.
  • Browser fingerprinting relies on your browser and is a way of identifying users every time the go online and track your activity. Through fingerprinting, websites can determine the users operating system, language, time zone, and browser version without your permission.[11]
  • Supercookies or "evercookies" can not only be used to track users across the web, but they are also hard to detect and difficult to remove since they are stored in a different place than the standard cookies.[12]
  • Session replay scripts allows the ability to replay a visitor's journey on a web site or within a mobile application or web application.[13]
  • Web beacons are commonly used to check whether or not an individual who received an email actually read it.


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 analyse patterns of activity.[14] 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 behaviour in order to identify buying intentions is seen by many commercial organisations as an effective way to target marketing activities.[15] 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.[16] Do Not Track is a web browser setting that can request a web application to disable the tracking of a user. Enabling this feature will send a request to the website users are on to disable their cross-site user tracking.

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. Many times, the functionality of the website fails. For example, you may not be able to login to the site, or preferences are lost.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ D. Sundarasen, Sheela Devi (2019-04-08). "Institutional characteristics, signaling variables and IPO initial returns". PSU Research Review. 3 (1): 29–49. doi:10.1108/prr-10-2016-0003. ISSN 2399-1747.
  2. ^ "Internet Safety: Understanding Browser Tracking". GCFGlobal.org. Retrieved 2019-12-13.
  3. ^ Kleinberg, Samantha; Mishra, Bud (2008). "Psst". Proceeding of the 17th International Conference on World Wide Web - WWW '08. New York, New York, USA: ACM Press: 1143. doi:10.1145/1367497.1367697. ISBN 9781605580852.
  4. ^ "What is Usability Testing?". The Interaction Design Foundation. Retrieved 2019-12-13.
  5. ^ "What is an IP address?". HowStuffWorks. 2001-01-12. Retrieved 2019-12-13.
  6. ^ "How cookies track you around the web & how to stop them". Privacy.net. 2018-02-24. Retrieved 2019-12-13.
  7. ^ Martin, Kirsten (2015-12-22). "Data aggregators, consumer data, and responsibility online: Who is tracking consumers online and should they stop?". The Information Society. 32 (1): 51–63. doi:10.1080/01972243.2015.1107166. ISSN 0197-2243.
  8. ^ Loshin, David; Reifer, Abie (2013-01-01), Loshin, David; Reifer, Abie (eds.), "Chapter 4 - Customer Lifetime and Value Analytics", Using Information to Develop a Culture of Customer Centricity, Morgan Kaufmann, pp. 23–31, ISBN 9780124105430, retrieved 2019-11-11
  9. ^ Andrea Fortuna (2017-11-06). "What is Canvas Fingerprinting and how the companies use it to track you online | So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish". Retrieved 2019-12-13.
  10. ^ BigCommerce (2019-12-12). "What is cross-device tracking?". BigCommerce. Retrieved 2019-12-13.
  11. ^ "What is online tracking and how do websites track you?". Koofr blog. Retrieved 2019-12-13.
  12. ^ "Cookies - Definition - Trend Micro USA". www.trendmicro.com. Retrieved 2019-12-13.
  13. ^ "Session replay", Wikipedia, 2019-10-15, retrieved 2019-12-13
  14. ^ Mayer, J. R.; Mitchell, J. C. (May 2012). "Third-Party Web Tracking: Policy and Technology". 2012 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy: 413–427. CiteSeerX doi:10.1109/SP.2012.47. ISBN 978-1-4673-1244-8.
  15. ^ "Website visitor tracking going too far?". Prospectvision.net. Retrieved 2012-08-03.
  16. ^ "What is an Opt Out Cookie? - All about Cookies". www.allaboutcookies.org. Retrieved 2019-11-11.
  17. ^ "What is the Definition of Online Privacy? | Winston & Strawn Legal Glossary". Winston & Strawn. Retrieved 2019-12-13.
  18. ^ "Web Analytics Basics". www.usability.gov. 2013-10-08. Retrieved 2019-12-13.
  19. ^ Beal, Vangie. "What is Web Beacon? Webopedia Definition". www.webopedia.com. Retrieved 2019-12-13.

External linksEdit