Internet Security and Privacy
Am I really being tracked on the Internet?
Yes and No. You specifically are typically not being tracked, but the general information about your surfing habits may be. Typical web sites collect basic information such as browser type, operating system, referring URL, etc. when you visit their site.
What information is really available for tracking by a web site?
Generally specific information such as your name, email, and passwords are NOT available to a web site. web sites and web pages do have access to certain information about your computer, browser and operating system. This information includes:
The address of your computer. If you are using a Dial-Up (modem) connection, this address typically changes each time you connect to the Internet. If you have a permanent connection ( Cable, DSL, ISDN, T1 ) this address may be static (stays the same). If you have a static IP address, it is advisable that you run firewall software such as ZoneAlarm or Tiny Personal Firewall to product your computer from possible attack from the outside world.
The basic information such as if you are running Internet Explorer or Netscape is transmitted when you visit a web site.
The referring URL is the web site and/or web page that you came from prior to visiting a web site. This provides basic information about what link or ad you may have clicked prior to visiting a vendors web site.
How does this tracking work?
There are many techniques for tracking a users surfing habits. We have highlighted the most common techniques below.
Banner Ad Servers and Cookies
Banner ad servers have been noted to be the biggest culprit in attempting to use your surfing habits to better target ads to the viewer that may be most appealing. For instance, if you visit a web site that provides information on purchasing a new vehicle, chances are, you are looking for a new car. The ad server will place a cookie (piece of information) on your computer that can be later used by another ad server to understand what ads, or sites you have visited. If you then visit another web site that uses the same, or an affiliated ad server, that ad server can read the cookie placed by the first web site and "know" that you are interested in a new car and display an appropriate ad.
While this type of tracking may not be damaging in any way, this information can still be used to gain a basic understanding of you and your surfing habits, which may not be desirable in some cases.
Advanced Techniques often referred to as Web-Bugs
New advanced techniques have started to appear so that even if you block cookies from your browser, a web site can still determine if you have visited an affiliated web site. One form of the technique involves timing how long an individual image takes to load on a web page. If you have visited another web page that uses the same image, the image will be already stored in your local computers cache (temporary web files) and will load very quickly. If you have not visited a site with this image before, it will load slower. This way, affiliated web sites will all display the same logo image, or an invisible image, that can later be used for tracking.
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