You’re bored during the lockdown. To pass the time, you create an imaginary itinerary to Italy. After a couple of hours of merrily choosing the best places in Rome and Milan to see, you turn off the website and go back to your work.
But then, you notice something strange. Every website you visit has an advertisement for an Italian travel destination. From cheap flight tickets, hotels, and homestays to beautiful museums, these advertisements are on every page.
Does the above scenario seem familiar? Perhaps, too familiar, right?
This is a common experience for almost every Internet user nowadays. Smartphone users may find it even creepier – they may even find target advertising about a product or a destination which they might have only mentioned in a conversation, like a nearby gym or groceries.
Ultimately, it all boils down to the fact that unless you’re among the extremely paranoid, it is very difficult to be completely anonymous on the Internet. Almost every website you visit has a mechanism to track users arriving at its page. This is done in a variety of ways.
How do Web trackers work and use your private data?
Cookies are small pieces of data that are placed on a user’s system by websites. These files act as unique identifiers and their main purpose is to benefit repeat visitors. For example, a person will not be required to log in to a website on their second visit due to the cookie file identifying them.
There are two types of cookies: first-party cookies are set by the website itself while third-party cookies are set by external providers. While users are mostly aware of first-party cookies, they may not be as aware of what third-party cookies are being placed on their systems.
Third-party cookies and other mechanisms
Third-party cookies are deployed across the Internet and can track a user’s activity across many different websites. These third-party cookies track and analyze user activity. By analyzing this data, the owners of third-party cookies can create highly detailed user profiles. This allows them to create and deliver extremely targeted advertisements for specific user profiles. For example, a user who checks fitness equipment and gyms may constantly be targeted with ads for treadmills or protein shakes, across the websites they visit. Or, as the example cited at the beginning of this article demonstrated, third-party cookies analyzed that the user was searching for Italian destinations and hence showed targeted advertisements.
Apart from cookies, websites can track users on the following parameters as well:
- IP addresses can provide websites with the locations from where their users are visiting.
- All browsers have unique fingerprints that provide information on the type of system that is being used (PC or smartphone), operating system, screen resolution, etc.
- User interactions like the amount of time the user spends on the website, their click-through rates can also be mapped.
While it may not be possible to be completely anonymous on the Internet, users can exercise vigilance by deploying Internet security solutions which ensure they stay safe and there is minimum tracking. Quick Heal Total Security’s Anti Tracker feature protects you from websites that can track your online activities and spy on you. It blocks trackers that pry on your online footprint and browsing behavior.