How Do Websites Collect Your Browser Data?
Whenever you visit a website, you leave a data trace behind you. The owner of that website collects all of the information about your browsing history, including what pages you visited, how long you spent there, which links you clicked etc.
This browser data is so valuable for businesses because it gives them an insight into your browsing behavior. This can then be used to build marketing campaigns, change the layout and functionality of the website, and even predict future consumer trends. Browser data is becoming ever more important in the business world and there is a whole industry built around collecting it and analyzing it to gain information about users.
This data is collected in one of two ways; cookies and user accounts. If you want to stay safe online and protect your personal information, it is important that you understand exactly how it is collected in the first place. Only then will you be able to protect yourself. So, how do websites collect your browser data?
What Are Cookies?
Cookies are small text files that are stored on your computer when you visit certain websites. They are used for many different things, including keeping track of the contents of your shopping cart or recording what pages you have clicked on when browsing the site. This information is stored as text files on the browser, known as cookies.
Say, for example, you visit a new site and read a few articles. When you visit that site again in the future, it will remember what articles you read so it can suggest similar things you might be interested in. On a shopping site, they will keep track of what you have added to your cart, even on future visits. This is how sites like Amazon give you personalized recommendations for products that you may want to buy.
Not all websites store cookies directly on your computer however. More and more sites now use an external service, known as a third-party cookie
These are files that are stored by someone other than the site you originally visited. They can be used to show pop-up advertisements or promote similar products that may interest you. Companies like Google or DoubleClick pay other websites a small fee to install these files on your browser.
It is estimated that around 80% of the cookies in use today are third-party cookies. They can be very useful for those who want to promote their website, but they raise huge concerns about privacy as well.
If you want to limit the amount of data that is collected by cookies, there are a few things you can do. First, it's important to remember that disabling cookies will limit your browsing experience and could even prevent you from using certain sites and services online.
However, almost every browser now has cookie options built into its settings so you can block them if you find it necessary. Websites will display a pop-up when you first enter, outlining what cookies are collected and whether there are any third-party cookies active. Although you will have the option to disable a lot of the cookies on the site, there are still essential cookies that must be collected so the site can function properly.
People often assume that if they disable cookies, the website doesn't collect any data about them. Unfortunately, that is not always the case because information is also collected by user accounts. Websites that have you sign up to them often ask for personal information, such as your name, date of birth and email address. This means they can learn a lot about what you do on their site without needing cookies.
Most of the online services you use, including email and shopping, for example, require a user account. If you are using these, the site can link all your activity to that account. When you first create an account with a website or service, you usually have to agree to the terms and conditions. It is in these terms and conditions that you agree to let them store your browser data on your account.
Disabling user accounts is less effective than disabling cookies because many sites make it compulsory for new users to sign up with an account before they can use the website fully. In this case, disabling cookies does not stop the data from being collected because you have already provided it by creating an account. Although some sites offer a guest option, especially for online shopping, the majority of people use an account because they want their details to be saved because it is more efficient if they use the site on a regular basis.
All of the data that is collected on your account is likely to be sold on to third-parties like big data management companies or advertisers. These organizations will then use it to send you marketing emails or create targeted ads for you on websites. Although you usually have the option of disabling these permissions so your browser data is not shared, they are almost always turned on by default. Most people don't realize this and they don't know how to disable them.
What Is Browser Data Used For?
Your browser data is frequently used for marketing. Websites that collect this data use it to target advertisements and content specifically at you as an individual, rather than showing general information and ads.
Websites keep track of your online behavior so they can understand what sort of products or services would be most likely to interest you. If you choose to share this information with them, it is also possible for advertisers and services to use your browser data to learn more about you as a person. This could include your name, where you live or work, what television shows you watch or what kind of music you listen to.
Companies are willing to pay big money for this information as it makes it easier for them to find new customers and generate more revenue. That means there are a lot of people making large profits from your browser data every day.