Am I really being tracked on the Internet?
Yes and No. You specifically are typically not being tracked, but the general information
about your surfing habits may be. Typical web sites collect basic information such as browser type, operating system, referring
URL, etc. when you visit their site.
This information is often used to determine where people learn about a particular
and/or cache items (i.e. images) to determine if you have been to that particular web site, or a web site which they be affiliated.
This can provide useful information for marketing purposes and advertising campaigns.
What information is really available for tracking by a web site?
Generally specific information such as your name, email, and passwords are NOT available
to a web site. web sites and web pages do have access to certain information about your computer, browser and operating system.
This information includes:
The address of your computer. If you are using a Dial-Up (modem) connection, this address typically changes
each time you connect to the Internet. If you have a permanent connection ( Cable, DSL, ISDN, T1 ) this address may be static
(stays the same). If you have a static IP address, it is advisable that you run firewall software such as ZoneAlarm or Tiny
Personal Firewall to product your computer from possible attack from the outside world.
The basic information such
as if you are running Internet Explorer or Netscape is transmitted when you visit a web site.
information about your computer such as screen size, and color depth. This information is basically harmless and is used for
survey purposes only.
The referring URL is the web site and/or web page that you came from prior to
visiting a web site. This provides basic information about what link or ad you may have clicked prior to visiting a vendors
How does this tracking work?
There are many techniques for tracking a users surfing
habits. We have highlighted the most common techniques below.
Ad Servers and Cookies
Banner ad servers have been noted to be
the biggest culprit in attempting to use your surfing habits to better target ads to the viewer that may be most appealing.
For instance, if you visit a web site that provides information on purchasing a new vehicle, chances are, you are looking
for a new car. The ad server will place a cookie (piece of information) on your computer that can be later used by another
ad server to understand what ads, or sites you have visited. If you then visit another web site that uses the same, or an
affiliated ad server, that ad server can read the cookie placed by the first web site and "know" that you are interested
in a new car and display an appropriate ad.
While this type of tracking may not be damaging in any way, this information
can still be used to gain a basic understanding of you and your surfing habits, which may not be desirable in some cases.
Advanced Techniques often referred to as Web-Bugs
New advanced techniques
have started to appear so that even if you block cookies from your browser, a web site can still determine if you have visited
an affiliated web site. One form of the technique involves timing how long an individual image takes to load on a web page.
If you have visited another web page that uses the same image, the image will be already stored in your local computers cache
(temporary web files) and will load very quickly. If you have not visited a site with this image before, it will load slower.
This way, affiliated web sites will all display the same logo image, or an invisible image, that can later be used for tracking.