Do Websites Know When You Visit?

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google analytics user count tracking

Do you think that websites can tell when you visit them? It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, but it’s true. Websites use cookies to track your movements and determine when you have visited. They track the IP address of your computer and can even tell what kind of device or web browser you are using. All of this information is used to create a profile of you as a consumer. In this article, we will discuss how tracking works, what cookies are, how they are used to track website visitors, and how you can prevent websites from tracking you. We will also talk about countermeasures on your computer if you don’t want websites to track you.

How does tracking work?

When you visit a website, the site’s computer will place a cookie on your computer. A cookie is a small file that contains unique information about you. The site’s computer can then read this cookie and determine what kind of device you are using and where you are from. This helps the site figure out how to tailor its advertising campaigns to your interests.

To understand this, one needs to consider the data gathered by the site. There are four categories of data that a site can gather about you using cookies.

Location information: This helps determine where you grew up and your current residence.

Browsing habits: This allows the site to determine what types of sites you visit.

Dependent on time and day: Websites can determine your work schedule and when you are likely to be at home.

Information concerning how much time you spend on the website: With this data, your interests can be analyzed and interesting content that you have been interested in in the past can be suggested to you. This is how you get content displayed that really interests you.

The website collects these data points and matches them to your cookie. It then uses this information to create a profile of you. Once the site has a profile of you, it can tailor its advertising to suit your interests.

Cookies are also used for more benign purposes. For example, sites will set a cookie that keeps you logged in when you return to the site. This prevents you from having to log in every time you move from one page to another on the site. Cookies are also used for security purposes. Whether using a public computer or logging back in after you have been away, the site can recognize you by your cookie. The tracking is done by unique IDs.

Cookies aren’t always bad! Cookies are very important on the internet and make it much easier for you to use websites. On the other hand, cookies are of course also used to collect data about you and your behavior, for example, to offer you targeted advertising.

Have you ever wondered why when you are looking for a certain product online, for example, a pair of new shoes, and suddenly you get promotional offers for shoes on many other websites… funny, isn’t it?… that’s how cookies work too!

What is a cookie?

A cookie is a string of text sent to your browser from a website and stored by your browser on your computer’s hard drive. The message can contain various info such as user name, password, or other personal information. Cookies arrive at your computer in the form of small files that are downloaded onto your hard drive when you visit a website or its pages. It is up to you to decide whether you want a cookie.

There are several types of cookies. They include the persistent cookies and the session cookies. The latter are temporary and expire when the browser shuts down or when you log out of the site. The earlier ones do last for an indefinite period and may be stored on your hard drive even if you close your browser or log out of the site.

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Cookies can be either single-use or multi-use, lasting for a specified period before they are deleted. They are also either session-based or persistent. Session cookies are single-use and get scrapped from your pc you close the browser. It is important to note that the persistent type can last for an extended period on your pc. Session cookies are the most commonly used type of cookie due to their short life span. However, session cookies are not commonly stored on your computer; instead, they are stored in memory and deleted when you close the browser. Persistent cookies, on the other hand, stay on your computer until they expire or you delete them.

About Facebook pixel and re-marketing

That’s right, there’s even a special Facebook/Meta “pixel” placed on many websites! The Facebook pixel is a type of web beacon that helps Facebook to track and gain data. It is used in connection with the Facebook ads platform. The Facebook pixel allows the website to re-market its offers by storing a cookie on your device. For example, if you have visited online stores but didn’t purchase anything, Facebook can target you with advertisements for those products for up to six months after you have viewed the ad.

The concept behind Facebook or Meta pixel and re-marketing is similar to Google Analytics, but there are some differences. For example, a Facebook pixel can be used to measure your web browsing habits as well as your website usage. This will enable Facebook to create a profile of you in the form of a user profile that is similar to Google Analytics — it can track and collect data about you based on multiple parameters.

Why data is money?

Data is the new currency and data collected by companies through cookies is even more valuable than money. Businesses can use this information to identify consumer trends and market their products accordingly. Cookies give businesses access to a wealth of data that they can sell to advertisers.

A cookie profiling website will collect information about you, such as your age, income level, and the type of car you drive. Based on this information, they will create an online profile for you. After they compile all of your data points, they can target you with their ads. And if you are reading this article, advertisers will be able to use your data and profile to advertise their products to you.

Track your internet behavior and gathering data about your browsing habits on the web is something that cookies are capable of doing. Cookies can collect information about what kinds of things you look at online. Data collected from cookies can significantly improve marketing strategies, which results in more effective advertising campaigns. That is how valuable data is.

Here is how companies will benefit from collecting your data

You may not realize it, but when you are online and search for information online, the search engine company is tracking your searches. They are recording and storing that information in a database that they can use for marketing purposes. Internet companies are using cookies to gather, store and sell personal data about you.

Ways in which data can be used

Data collected can be used in a variety of ways. For example, your data can be used to create ads geared specifically towards you. It can also be used to help you narrow down search results online.

Public companies use this data to make better-informed decisions and provide better services to their customers. For example, they may use your information as a benchmark against which they can measure how well their products are performing against their competitors.

Another use of data collected is for marketing purposes. The way this goes is that you may see an advertisement on your computer or cell phone without any idea that it came from the ad company. This could be because you have been tracked previously by cookies and your data was sold to a company that was advertising with them.

Data is sold when a third party obtains access to it in data centers. It can also be used for targeted advertising purposes by companies like Google AdWords and Facebook. This is because they can use your data to create a profile of you and then sell your profiles to wealthy companies.

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Another use of data is to help companies determine their marketing plans. Data can be used to send you outrageously targeted ads because they have a good idea of who you are already.

For example, data can be used to market products that are based on your preferences. That is why you can find a lot of offers on sites that you visit.

A cookie profiling website will collect information about you, such as your age, income level, and the type of car you drive. Based on this information, they will create an online profile for you. After they compile all of your data points, they can target you with their ads. And if you are reading this article, advertisers will be able to use your data and profile to advertise their products to you.

People are willing to accept third-party tracking on their devices in exchange for the convenience of anonymous search engines and the ability to easily share their data when they choose. The only limit is their comfort with their data or the amount of data they are willing to give up. If customers feel that no amount of information is too much, then companies will collect whatever they can from users’ devices.

How can you prevent websites from spying on you?

There are some ways to prevent sites from spying on you as you browse. Let’s have a look at them;

Block the cookies

The first thing you can do is block cookies altogether if you are worried about your privacy. Many browsers are configured to allow third-party cookies by default. You can adjust your settings in the browser settings to block cookies from being set on your device. Doing this will prevent companies from gathering your data.

block cookies google chrome
You can block third-party tracking cookies on Google Chrome!

How to disable and enable cookies:

  • Launch Google Chrome and click on the three small dots in the top right corner. Select Settings.
  • Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page. Click the small Advanced link at the bottom of the page.
  • You will then see another long list of items. In the Privacy & Security section, locate Content Settings. Click on it.
  • To block cookies, turn off the switch next to Allow sites to save and read cookie data (recommended). From now on, cookies will be blocked.

Use a private search engine

Some browsers allow users to choose the search engine that they want to use. They are responsible for collecting and restricting their users’ data, which protects them from third-party tracking. Some services will collect your data and then use it to create profiles on you, but they are not interested in placing ads on your behalf.

If you use Google as a search engine, then you are exposed to the greatest data collector. Everyone knows Google and everyone uses Google as their standard search engine. But Google also collects most of the data about its users.

If you want to search anonymously on the internet, then you should definitely use another search engine! Here I recommend you try out the search engine “DuckDuckGo“. This search engine gives you just as good results, but does not collect any user data!

duckduckgo logo
DuckDuckGo search engine will not track or collect your browser and user behavior.

Clear your cookies every time your browser a site

Most sites will leave cookies on your device even after you have left the site. It’s crucial to clear your cache every time you browse a new site when you want to prevent any tracking online. If you don’t visit sites that frequently, it’s also essential to clear your cookies every month or so.

Use private browsing mode

Using this method will keep the web pages from saving any information about you on their server, which protects your privacy and keeps third-party companies from collecting this data. You can use this mode even in the Google Chrome browser. You will find this mode when you click on the three little dot menu in the right top corner of your Google Chrome browser and then select “New Incognito Window”.

google chrome private browsing

Use a good tracker blocker

There are privacy protection services that will block all the sites you visit from collecting your browsing data. They can also block the service from placing ads on your device. They can also prevent websites from learning about your location and other important details about you, making it more difficult for them to market their products to you.

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Amend your default settings in the browser

You can change some of the defaults in your browser so that companies cannot track any information about you when you browse online. If you can’t access the internet, you don’t have to worry about third-party companies learning more about you because they won’t be able to track any information from your computer.

Use a different browser

There are also alternatives to the Google Chrome browser. For example, the Brave Browser promises a high degree of anonymity on the internet. You can easily download and install the Brave browser. The Brave browser is also based on the Google Chrome browser but has been modified in such a way that it allows as little data tracking as possible.

Use a VPN network

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) ensures that the data can no longer be read by unauthorized persons. A VPN hides your IP address (the special address that can identify your computer) by having the network reroute through a specially configured remote server run by a VPN host. So when you surf online with a VPN, the VPN server becomes the origin of your data. This makes it impossible for your internet service provider or other third parties to see which websites you visit or what information you enter on the internet. A VPN works like a filter, turning all the data you send and receive into “gibberish.” Even if someone got their hands on this data, it would be useless.

So using a VPN program is the perfect solution for surfing the internet completely anonymously and leaving no traces. There are many different VPN providers. If you are looking for a very good VPN provider that doesn’t cost too much money, I can recommend “iProVPN“.

What are the tracking tools?

Tracking tools are hidden codes that are programmed into websites. Some of these tools are more difficult to detect than others, but they are all designed to track your browsing activity as you browse the internet. The unique thing about tracking tools is that they are not malicious. They are used by digital marketers to gather information about you and use it to display ads that are more relevant to your specific tastes.

Do website owners use them to track you?

Many website owners install tracking tools, while others just ignore them on purpose because they think that visitors to their websites won’t find them spying. This is a common misconception; anyone can search for a website’s privacy policy, and if it is buried in the terms of service, that site does not want or expect its users to opt out of third-party tracking.

cookie message on website
You’ve probably seen this message a lot when you visit a new website, haven’t you? With this, you confirm that you agree to store cookies from this website on your computer.

Therefore, before you visit an unknown website, you will be asked whether you want to accept the cookies from this website and download the cookies to your computer or smartphone.

Conclusion

From this discussion, it is evident that websites know when someone visits their site and use the data for marketing or re-targeting their visitors. This is not a bad thing entirely because it can help them improve their websites by gaining valuable data. The interesting thing is that they do not share any of this data with advertisers, which means that they do not sell your data to third parties. They only use it to improve the website, but some of them use the data to create profiles on you and then target you with ads.

If you want total security and anonymity while browsing the internet, the safest option is to use a VPN network. Visit the website of our partner “iProVPN” and read through the exact advantages in detail again.

Founder at Datacrypt Ltd
Tim is the founder of Datacrypt.io and is an expert in web design, SEO, eCommerce, and content management. Tim loves to give you a lot of useful information in our blog about various topics.
Tim
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