The way we use the Internet has changed significantly in recent years. Due to the development of technology and expanding Internet reach, we can access it from almost everywhere. Gone are the days when you had to depend on your computer, and it took hours to download just one song. Now, we can use the Internet from our phones, laptops, or even our watches. We no longer have to wait to watch a show or listen to the music; we can stream it in a matter of seconds. But, this growing online presence has resulted in more and more data being released online, including our personal data.
Every time we access the Internet, we leave bits of data behind that websites collect and analyze through the process of online tracking. Websites use online tracking for various reasons that range from gaining better insight into users, optimizing user experience, targeted marketing, increasing revenue, and even fraud prevention. While their main goal is to improve their sales, customers also benefit along the way due to the optimized experience. While we have all seen some examples of online tracking, such as in the case of Netflix using data to provide recommendations or YouTube suggestions, most people are still now aware of how it functions, especially with the constant development of technologies.
How do websites track your online activity?
Similar to cookies, tracking beacons track user behavior, web traffic, site conversions, and more, but unlike cookies, they can’t be disabled. Tracking beacons are small, 1×1 pixel, transparent images that load when a user loads the website or opens the email and sends data back to the sender. This allows the sender of the beacon to track how often a website is loaded or the email opened. Advertisers commonly use it as it allows them to determine how many people interacted with their ad and get better insight about the customers improving their targeted marketing strategy.
Unlike cookies and tracking beacons, fingerprinting is more technically advanced and is constantly getting more advanced to ensure maximum efficiency. It is most commonly used in fraud prevention and cybersecurity as it allows websites to identify individual users and stop their accounts from being meddled with. This is done by collecting data through your browsers, such as which browser and device you are using, browser extensions, language setting or a time zone, or even your operating system, monitor size, and resolution. By collecting all of this data, a unique user profile is created. This allows websites to detect any discrepancies, such as a sudden change in time zone, and investigate the issue, successfully stopping fraudulent attempts. While it can be hard to believe that a website can create your unique profile just by collecting a few pieces of data from your browser, the truth is that it is highly unlikely someone can have the same browser data as you. We all personalize our devices and our browser; it would be almost impossible to find another person with the same settings as you.
Every device that is connected to the Internet needs to have a unique identifier called an IP or Internet Protocol address. Without IP addresses, we wouldn’t be able to access the Internet as our devices need it to communicate with each other. But, IP addresses can also be used to identify a user and determine their general location. Don’t be alarmed; it won’t give your exact location but the general region you are located in. For example, eCommerce sites often use it to redirect you to the website created for your country or region. You have to admit that it is always easier to use the websites created for your country, so you don’t have to think about currency conversion or even how to search for that item in another language. Ecommerce sites are always trying to improve users’ experience, and using IP address tracking can help them and the users. Not only does it increase their chances of a sale, but it reduces the expenses of delivery for users. Even though it is the least reliable online tracking method, when combined with other methods, it delivers great results.
We live in the digital age where data has become a valuable asset. Companies and organizations use it to grow their business and to become more competitive in today’s busy market. With so much competition, companies will take any advantage they can to stay ahead, and online tracking can help them with that. It allows them to get a better insight into their customers, improve their experience and increase the revenue in the process. With all these benefits and our growing online presence, the online tracking methods will keep evolving and getting more efficient.