Who’s Tracking You Online?

Do websites know specifically who you are when you visit them? I’m not talking about sites you’ve registered with and given permission to keep your information easily available. I’m talking about websites that you may never have visited or others you might not want to know your personal information. The short answer is probably not your specific name and address, but they may have a behavioral profile of you with a lot of information that’s been gathered and aggregated. They can know your geographic area, sex, age, online behavior and more.

Google Analytics is a great tool that allows site owners to get overall data about their site’s users. They don’t make individual user IP addresses available, however. There are a number of third party services where you can easily track a user’s IP address, but that only tells the general location of the user in most cases. These services are helpful in showing what content is viewed and how often that specific IP address visits the site.

If you’re an active internet user, it might surprise you to know you’re being tracked by over 100 sites a day. Many of them sites you don’t even visit. All the major browsers now have tools and plug-ins that block sites from tracking you, but you’ll need to specify which sites you want to recognize you when you use them. To find out what sites are tracking you, Firefox has a plug in called Collusion. Here’s a short presentation done by Gary Kovacs at the Ted2012 conference. After watching it I installed the plugin and have been keeping track of who’s tracking me.

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