Online tracking is, in essence, the gathering of useful data about users and their actions online. The most beneficial use or purpose of tracking user activity is to gain relevant insight into their behavior, needs, and preferences.  For websites, these data obtained come in handy for powerful optimization tools needed to aid user experience, commerce, customization, profiling, and targeted marketing as well as statistical resolutions.

Several approaches are usually employed to obtaining these data from users. Nevertheless, the new age of data gathering comes with its own challenges as data forgery and tampering are becoming rampant. In a bid to protect any data sent online, Digital Signatures with the ability to confirm the legitimacy of a document or software are used.

Introduction to Digital Signature Management

Digital Signature is a form of signature which entails the use of a mathematical algorithm or pin in signing and validating a document or software authenticity. Digital Signature comes as an alternative to pen and paper in the online world. The Digital Signature Management ensures all data sent digitally from a selected source gets to the receiver in its original format.

So, How Do Websites Track You and Others’ Website Activity?

Generally, most users do not clearly know when or what method of tracking is employed and also the exact purpose the data would be used for. Well, there are several approaches to track user activities online. The dominant methods employed by most websites in tracking user activities include:

  • Browser Foot Printing
  • Cookies And Tracking Scripts
  • HTTP Referrer
  • IP Addresses
  • Super Cookies
  • User-Agents

Browser Foot Printing

Browser Foot Printing is dependent on the uniqueness of the user’s preferred browser. This method offers a highly accurate approach towards the identification and tracking of user activity every time they choose to be online.  From the browsers, websites can identify a user browser version, installed fonts, installed plug-ins, language, operating system, screen resolution, time zone, and other data even with no explicit permission provided.

If a user disables cookies completely, your browser becomes unique to the data shared. The data shared may be considered small, but there is only a tiny percentage in finding another user with similar browser information.

Cookies and Tracking Scripts

Cookies are possibly the most popular and common approach for websites in tracking user activities. Cookies are small text files saved on a user device for a specific time frame after visiting a website. The contents of cookies can comprise of log-in data or details useful in improving or optimizing user experience. Some sites make cookies necessary to enhance user access to its essential functions. But cookies, alongside these benefits, also identify users and track website activities as well.

Third-party or tracking cookies are sometimes considered problematic as they save user browsing history over more extended periods. These cookie types are often engaged by advertisers who track user activities over several websites to create a profile based on browsing behaviors. Although a large number of these tracking cookies are invisible, some visible tracking cookies include the embedded Twitter feeds. Some websites provide the possibility of disabling cookie tracking through their site, but this may limit some site features. Nevertheless, users can restrict the activities of cookies by disabling them from the browser’s privacy settings or browse in incognito mode.

IP Addresses (Internet Protocol Address)

The Internet Protocol address is a unique number used in identifying a computer connected to the internet. The IP address is amongst the basic identification options for users on the internet, as it can be used to determine approximated location, say a user’s area or city.

Notably, this address can change with time and is not the most dependable, but data provided alongside other website tracking approaches can combine to deliver a user location. A known approach to hiding IP address is through the use of a VPN (Virtual Private Network) software, which encrypts and protects your internet traffic.

HTTP Referrer

The digital marketing process involves engaging the right audience, and a known approach is finding out where a similar audience found their website and how well to engage them better. When a user visits a website, the HTTP referrer detects and recognizes the previous webpage address used in linking the new webpage.

The HTTP referrer serves as a referrer header, which passes the data to the website you are presently viewing. The data are usually relevant for promotional or statistical needs. Similar to other methods, users who wish to not have their data shared can turn it off as well.

Super Cookies

Super Cookies are tracking cookies intended to be saved permanently on the user’s PC. With similarities in function to regular cookies, super cookies are not easy to detect and take away. Super Cookies save cookie data in several locations, and once the website notices the user deleted a part of it, the deleted data is restored from new places.

Super Cookies are not easily identified when added from a browsing session, and there is no easy removal process as well. Super Cookies permit third parties tracking, and advisable protection is through VPN or visiting only websites using HTTPS (SSL or TLS certification).

User-Agents

User agents are a line of text that provides your browser and operating system information to the webserver. Each browser features its own exclusive user agent, and they send these details to every website a user visits.

The web server engages the received data to optimize its web pages to suit each browser and operating system. For instance, a website mobile version is usually made available for mobile browsers. The user agent is also used in gathering statistics for browser market-share.

In Conclusion

Data in the digital age are enormously valuable and can serve several purposes. For privacy and other individual reasons, understanding your digital footprint or signature and how website tracks user activity may be considered relevant. The multiple approaches used in tracking users are continuously evolving and gaining more innovative insights. While tracking may not be required for some website, data collection is becoming a norm, and user understanding of the processes is vital.

Want to Learn More?

Echo Analytics Group is a full-service intelligence firm providing services, products, training, and technology to both public and private sector businesses.  Echo Analytics Group has trained thousands of intelligence professionals in-person and online.  We also deliver world-class products and services to a host of businesses across the globe.  To learn more about Echo Analytics Group please contact us @ info@echoanalyticsgroup.com.  To sign up for a course, check out Echo Academy here: https://echoacademy.thinkific.com/collections