A simple way to understand online tracking

Once a company identifies you, they can often track your activity indefinitely.

The following is a list of ways companies can identify you from interactions with their website or communications with you:

  • When you log in to a website
  • Contact form submission
  • Opening an email

Another backdoor method to learn about people who visit your site but haven’t performed one of the actions above is the following: buy data from other companies that have identified you before because of one of the above interactions and use it to help them more effectively achieve their business goal with you (i.e. change their messaging to fit you).

One of the more accurate ways to persist in tracking you is to leave a cookie stored in your web browser that doesn’t expire. This method is also used to help keep you logged in to website but in this use case it allows a company to continue to understand your activity.  The downside to this is that a user can block the collection of cookies or delete cookies quite easily.

Alternatively, a company can store information that identifies you on an external database they control. The pro of this method is that they have this information permanently and you can’t delete it. The downside is that this info on you could become obsolete and inaccurate. For instance, part of this profile on you is your IP address and geolocation. This can and does change with some regularity wheras since he cookie method just requires you to continue using the same computer then this means a company can continue to track you and marry you to new IP addresses and geolocations as you change routers, internet server providers and travel around the world.

Some people don’t care about tracking. I tend to prefer that companies know my preferences and use targeted advertising on me.

However, there are a number of ways you can restrict tracking:

  1. Disable Javascript
    1. This is not a truly viable solution since most of the web runs on javascript and there are still non-javascript methods companies can use to track you as well.
  2. Use a tracking blocker extension.
    1. Example Extension
  3. Refrain from doing anything identifiable
  4. Use alias accounts