Follow us
All VPNs are chosen by the expert, but we may get a commission when you buy them via our links.

How websites track your behavior and share this data with others?

Published: June 18, 2021 By Darina Shramko

Website tracking

Image source - cookielawinfo.com

It is hard to live in 2021 and don’t be watched by some enterprises, right? But the think is they are selling all observations  about you on third-parties, who are sellling you advertisements from companies, who are selling you goods.

No one stands next to us with a camera, we do not hear the voices of strangers during telephone conversations (although there were such cases), and we do not see how other people get access to our confidential data. But if we do not have evidence of observation, this does not mean that it does not exist. Have you ever wondered why Google offers to buy us the dream shoes we searched for on websites a few days ago?

After taking a closer look at the controversial Google Chrome update, we decided to analyze the most visited sites in the world to see if our data easily fall into the wrong hands.

Some websites follow your activity, but there are also relatively harmless web portals — porn sites, for example. It seems that the porn industry respects the privacy of its users more than some large companies with a multi-million dollar audience.

This article also:

  • a practical guide for Internet users;
  • a practical guide to protecting your privacy online.
 

Disclaimer:

This article discusses the technologies that should be used to ensure the security of the personal data of Internet users. Any use of these methods for hacking or unauthorized access is illegal.

All information is provided only to inform you about the ways of collecting and transferring confidential information to third parties.


How are we being followed on the Internet?

Sites ask you to allow the use of cookies. We do not usually read the user agreement and click the checkbox because if we refuse to use it, the site will probably deny access to us. So, cookies are small text files.

How do third-party cookies work?

Image source – vpnpro.com

Many companies use the services of analysts and PR specialists to monetize their websites. Thus, third parties run their scripts on websites to track audiences and maintain statistics.

That is, they create cookies on your device.

However, they differ from other secure cookies in that they follow all your online activities. What movie you were looking for on Thursday, what food you ordered, and what you like to eat for dinner — your entire personal life is tracked.

The Google search engine is striking in its scale, which is both pleasing and frightening. However, Google has an advantage in scale: it is more difficult for them to do something out of the ordinary because they will lose the trust of their audience.

But the small advertisers and web analysis services that litter the Internet and the world’s sites do not think about the privacy of Internet users at all.

For example, Google does not sell the collected data to third parties, which cannot be said about other advertisers. It is profitable for small web services to sell data because this is a great way to make money!

Tools used to collect and analyze data on the Internet

Of course, cookies aren't the only way to track audience activity. In the past decade, many new technologies have emerged to follow us.

For example:

  • Web beacons. They are 1-pixel vector images. Web beacons are hosted on a different server from the server of the website you are visiting. Your browser gives out specific information about you by receiving web beacons: IP address, browser type, and other information. Web beacons are widely used in conjunction with cookies.
  • Flash cookies. These cookies resemble regular cookies, only they can store much more data, which is more challenging to get rid of.
  • HTML5 local storage. This method is sometimes used as an alternative to cookies.
  • Cached content. Browsers may cache the content to speed up content loading and obtain a cache based on server-supplied expiration headers. This can and is used to track information after visiting the site. Unfortunately, dealing with cached content is useless because you probably won't have enough time to constantly delete the cache from your devices.

Canvas fingerprinting

We did not mention Canvas in the data collection tools listed above, as this mechanism requires a more detailed explanation.

Do you want to know how Canvas works?

The point is that the graphics API allows JavaScript to create images in your browser. Each time a unique image is going to be created, as it all depends on the different GPUs and other system characteristics of your device.

What is most frightening is that having received such a drawing can quickly determine the model of your device.

Alarming, isn't it?

The image generated by the Canvas API varies by browser, OS, and GPU, which means they cannot personally identify you. But this does not mean that this method does not threaten your safety.

Canvas can be blocked exclusively using the Tor browser. Regular add blockers won’t show you which sites are using Canvas.


How do the most visited world websites collect your data?

After analyzing the statistics of the top fifty sites in terms of traffic (Google, Amazon, AccuWeather, etc.), we counted 460 third-party trackers from 130 sources.

What does it mean?

By visiting these sites, you report your visit to at least 130 analyst and data collection organizations. Many more other organizations receive your data, as organizations exchange data with other, smaller companies and advertisers. Bottom line: you broadcast your data, hobbies, and way of life to the whole world!

We draw your attention to the fact that in addition to the top fifty most visited sites, there are web portals that collect more personal data than we mentioned earlier (this can be passport data, bank accounts, etc.).

In descending order, web portals shown that have third-party plug-in scripts from advertisers that collect information about you:

Top 10 countries that collect data about you

Image source –  vpnpro.com

After reading these statistics, we are sure you will be more careful when spending your time on the Internet.

Avid spies from the top fifty

As expected, Google trackers are the most used among the top fifty world websites. Here is a complete list of the sites with the most significant number of third-party scripts:

Top 30 sites those use trackers

Image source – vpnpro.com

Cookies are just one of many ways in which user data collected.

Google, for example, has tons of other resources that they can rely on, from Google Maps and Instagram to Android or iOS devices.

Of course, Facebook is essentially a database of confidential information filled with data by the users themselves. The same can be said for Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

Users noticed that by updating their devices to the latest firmware version 14.5.1, Instagram starts to notify them that every step will be tracked. Instagram has also provided information on blocking accounts with the same IP address.

On the one hand, this is, of course, good: you can immediately get rid of annoying fake accounts from which often write unpleasant and offensive messages. But few people think about the other side of the coin: your IP address is known to a wide range of people.


Conclusion

Keeping anonymity on the Internet and protecting your sensitive data from being passed on to third parties is not an easy task. We found the world's leading websites to quietly but confidently track our every move.

We are confident that if you feel lonely, you can always call your analyst, who carefully saved your every request to Google. Of course, this is all irony. We need to worry about our privacy because each of us is constantly under the gun of hidden cameras.

Buy a good VPN whenever possible, clear the cache on your devices, and avoid leaving your passport details and credit card CVV codes online.

Remember that many services and Cybercriminals are interested in taking over your confidential information. Be one step ahead of spies - protect yourself and your time on the Internet now. The more people learn about the dangers of cookies and other technologies that collect information about you, the more difficult it will be to manage people.

Your online safety is primarily your responsibility.

We hope that our article was helpful to you. Share valuable tips with your family and friends so you can keep them safe.

Dear readers, please tell us about your methods of maintaining the confidentiality of information on the Internet. Did you expect your favorite sites to collect data about you? Do you think that if most of the world's population seriously thinks about this problem, web portals will lose the trust of their audience?

Share your opinion in the comments.

Author
Darina Shramko
Cybersecurity specialist and researcher.

Write a review

click to select