Jun. 11, 2019
Have you ever wondered how much information a business can gain about one of its visitors? We all know that Google and Facebook track online visitors, but to what extent is your online experience monitored by the company whose Website you visited?
Facebook is a perfect example of tracking that most people are not aware of, and they are not the only social Website doing this. A website can have a Facebook Pixel which can be set to load on a landing page, front page, or every page of a website. Whenever a Facebook user visits a website with a Pixel tracker, Facebook follows them through the "pixel" as it loads on each page. So, for instance, an advertiser can target or eliminate people who visited their Facebook page, or their Website. The website owner does not know who the person is per se; Facebook does.
Google Analytics tracks users that visit a website and can see how the visitor entered the site and if set up correctly can track the user across devices. Again the business does not have access to the "username," but the advertiser can target the visitor based on their actions on the Website. So for instance, if you looked at a diamond ring online, there's a good bet you're going to get ads for diamond rings. Depending on the advertiser's preferences, it can be for 30 days or more. Additional actions may trigger other events where the visitor will be reached as they get closer to "purchasing" that ring.
To show you how extreme the ad tracking can be if you were to use the same browser with the same account on all of your devices, phone, tablet, portable, and desktop, you guessed correctly; your activity is trackable across all of them.
Most people are aware that Search companies and Social Media companies are tracking them, but were you aware that businesses can track users across social, website properties, and email? Almost all email today is tracked and what makes emails so potent is that the owner knows if the person opened the email and clicked on any of the links. Many websites request visitors signing up for email to enter personal information such as their address and phone number. That user is now identifiable throughout that companies internet properties. Every page you visit, every link you click, how much time you spend on the page, all monitored and tracked.
There are companies now that help businesses track users across all of social media, email, and on their websites. They can even report back what you're saying about the company while watching out for keywords should you have anything nice or not so nice to say about their product or service. And they will follow them from social media through your properties and back. You can create custom filters that are activated based on a set of user actions.
If you want to stop all of this information being gathered or at least turn it off while surfing, there is a simple way, Google, for instance, allows you to opt out or even erase your online activities. If you want a little privacy while you are surfing, select "incognito" on Google, "InPrivate Window" on Microsoft Explorer, or "Private Mode" on Firefox.
If you would like some security with your email, do as I do, turn off HTML and only allow trusted emails to open as HTML, the rest as text. You will not see any of the images, but if there is any malicious code or tracking code, they won't load either, plus many email programs ask you if you want to view the current message in HTML.
For the ultimate in private browsing, not that the folks at the NSA haven't cracked this before, you can download the TOR browser, which is the final browser when it comes to privacy since it hides who you are. Should you need even more privacy, especially when using the airport Wi-Fi or Starbucks you might want to add a VPN (a virtual private network) which makes it nearly impossible for anyone to monitor your online activities. Criminals have on occasion setup public wifi hotspots in public areas mimicking the wifi name so they can access peoples information, a VPN should eliminate that.
Not sure which browser you're using? Visit What Browser am I using what displays is the browser name, version, what operating system you're using (MacOS/Windows/Chrome), your IP address, monitor resolution, preferred language, and it will even let you know if your system is allowing Cookies to track you and whether or not Java or Flash is allowed. All of the above is readily available whenever you visit any website or open an email that displays HTML email. The trick is adding a picture, sound, etc. (can be as small as a single dot that you can't see) that requires your email or browser to connect to the Website to get that "file."