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What is Internet Tracking? Is it dangerous? How to know if I am tracked?

Web Tracking is not the same thing as website tracking. The latter refers to analyzing things about any website. That’s done using different tools available to webmasters. Web Tracking is about tracking you and your activities on websites. This post explains What is Web Tracking, What are Trackers in browsers, How websites track you online and lists some Browser tracking tests you can take.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

How do websites track you online?

There are many methods, like Browser Fingerprinting, that make it easier for websites to track you on the Internet. Browser fingerprinting allows for the websites to note down different factors unique to your device: Monitor resolution and depth, items like what all websites you were visiting, how many and what fonts are you using, and stuff like that.

All this information is carefully constructed so that they (Internet marketers) get a good browser and device fingerprint that gives you away even if you are trying to hide using Incognito mode on your browser.

The easiest method to track people is to use Cookies. The concept of cookies was introduced with Netscape Navigator to “provide a better experience”. Early cookies were meant to store settings for different websites. Current day cookies store more than just login information. They keep a tab of what all you are doing on the Internet.

Another case is where websites are bugged. They have small invisible scripts running in the background when you open the site. These scripts too collect as much information about you as possible. Some of the data saved from such bugs are name, location, email IDs, size, make, model of your computer, what browser are you using, what all apps you use, and similar things.

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There is not just one thing tracking you. There are many trackers; each tracker would query for different types of data. All these trackers send the data they collect, to a central authority that could be an app or some operating system. This is then saved in an understandable profile format that can be traced to you when you next visit the Internet.

Why is Internet Tracking bad

It sends a chill down the spine to think that some strangers are out there who know everything about your habits. The data sent by different trackers are built into a robust profile. Based on this profile, online marketing companies send you relevant advertisements. Some people like customized advertisements but in most cases, people are scared as to what information about them is available on the Internet.

The profiles are not limited to marketing. There are people who can manipulate you in name of helping out. With such data about you with them, the marketers or small-time hackers can try to blackmail you.

Worse, if the profiles contain social security numbers and things like that, your identity can be compromised. Bad people can misuse the information and do things that affect you negatively. With that data, people can easily impersonate others and take a monetary loan in your name.

Next, let’s see what all is available on the Internet to see what data is being tracked.

Browser Tracking Tests

Privacy.net – There are some five tools (tests) on privacy.net that tell you what information is likely to be stored in your “online profile” created by trackers. The first one is the basic test that tells you your IP address, your location, Internet Service Provider Name (ISP Name), your computers’ operating system, browser in use and screen resolution. It also checks if data can be leaked through autofill, what all websites you are logged on, and similar things. It also does fingerprint analysis which looks a bit dangerous.

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Panopticlick – checks what all data your browser is sharing with different websites. For example, is your browser blocked tracking ads, whether your browser is blocking invisible trackers. It also tells you if your browser fingerprint is unique. It shouldn’t be unique as being unique means like giving away your whole online profile to some stranger. The “Show full results for fingerprinting” option below the first table can be scary if you look into it.

Amiunique.org can run your fingerprint test to see if data can be traced back to you. Just click on View my Browser Fingerprint button. You may be surprised how much do these marketing people know about you and your device.

The Station X blog has a page that lists more of such sites that help you understand what all data of yours can be collected.

This explains how to companies or websites track your activity on the Internet. WE hope you find this post useful.

Now read: How to enable & configure Tracking Prevention in Edge.

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