How Do Websites Collect Your Data And How Do They Use It?

How Do Websites Collect Your Data And How Do They Use It?

Fitness trackers, online navigation, search engines, social media, online shopping - hardly a step goes unnoticed in everyday life. As a result, users can easily lose track of what data they have disclosed where and what is happening with the information there. Here is an overview of where data is collected in the network:

  • Cookies are codes and images embedded in websites that collect data about visitors. In this way, companies get an ever more accurate picture of each visitor over time. For example, cookies are also responsible for ensuring that advertisements for previously searched products are also displayed on other websites.
  • The IP address uniquely identifies the sender and recipient of data packets on the Internet, similar to a postal address. It reveals information about the Internet provider and the location of the computer. The Internet provider, in turn, can use it to track the data stream of its customers.
  • Online searches for specific products or topics are saved and associated with the user profile.
  • Third-party trackers are included on many websites or in apps. The majority of so-called app analytics companies use tracking for targeted advertising. As well as behavioral analysis and location tracking.
  • Some providers require an account or profile with personal information before customers can use their service. In addition to social media channels, this also includes themed portals aimed at specific groups of people. This may include a certain type of person or company.
  • Personality tests, games, surveys and prizes promise profits and access personal data in return.
  • Data analyzes by third-party providers are commissioned by online or stationary retailers. You can use it to optimize your advertising activities. To do this, they pass on the customer data they have collected to these data analysts.

What data is collected?

The so-called data brokers, i.e. companies that collect, buy and sell data, have very detailed profiles of people. They not only have information about their age, gender, address or marital status. They also know about their origin, weight, height, level of education. As well as their political views, preferences and tastes, shopping habits, vacation plans, health problems and illnesses. Details on job and career, bankruptcy or finances are also collected. Sometimes data collectors even manage to understand and document relationships with others. Then not only the users themselves, but also their friends and relatives are in the catalog of the data broker.

Who is collecting data?

There is almost always a financial interest here: Companies want to better understand the behavior of their own customers. This is in order to sell more products. Or they want to monetize the data themselves. Well-known data collectors include Google, Facebook, other social media channels and messengers. Internet providers, and all providers of products or services are just as interested in data as insurance companies and banks. Governments also collect certain personal information but are not allowed to pass it on.

What are the effects for users?

Each piece of information is of no interest in itself. But when different data and factors come together, a detailed picture of each user emerges, which is valuable for companies. Here are some scenarios that are possible or already a reality today:

  • Those who have frequently booked expensive hotels or flights will in future always be shown a higher price when booking online. Instead of, for example, customers without a booking history.
  • Vacation portals show users with Apple computers higher prices than those with Windows PCs.
  • The online research for certain diseases such as heart disorders or diabetes. This flows into the risk assessment of insurance companies.
  • Travelers from Munich pay higher prices for their flights than vacationers from Leipzig.
  • Bank customers pay higher interest rates if they have been classified as risky based on their online history.

It's not just the consequences that are critical: in some cases, these classifications are based on inaccurate information. However, there is no simple process for consumers to access, correct, contest and delete this information.

How is the data collected?

This is mostly done through the use of Cookies, which you have probably come across many, many times before online. Cookies contain personal information about users. Since the application of the European GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and ePrivacy laws, things have changed. Therefore the recommendations of the CNIL, websites have some obligations in terms of cookies. A visible banner must thus inform Internet users of the purpose of cookies. As well as obtain the user's consent to the creation and storage of these cookies. They also provide a means for the Internet user to configure or refuse these cookies. So, what are cookies used for?

It's simple: cookies provide information about the preferences of the person visiting the site. The latter is thus able to recognize and store information. For example the choice of language, connection identifiers, the pages viewed or for example the contents of a shopping cart. Cookies are also useful for obtaining statistics on the website in question. Including page consultation time, bounce rate, clicks, etc. All of this improves site traffic. There is also another type of cookie: third-party cookies. These have a very important role for targeted advertising. Indeed, it is they, by keeping in mind the pages that you consult, which then allow the display of related advertisements on other sites. No wonder then if you notice ads for sofas on your Facebook feed after visiting a furniture website, right? Therefore businesses can get a better idea of how their visitors behave. As well as how they can base their new content and advertising campaigns to suit the needs and desires of their visitors.

Data is important for many and also incredibly valuable. But the collection of personal data is not used only for commercial purposes. In fact, in 2012, during his presidential campaign, the former President of the United States, Barack Obama was able to collect more than a billion dollars. This is thanks to the analysis of the personal data of his voters. And nearly 70% of that harvest came from online donations. Therefore, data will continue to be a vital aspect of business for many years to come.