Part 1 of 4: This blog series will detail all of the data that browsers, websites, and social media collect every time you browse the internet. We will also provide actionable steps to minimize your online fingerprint and protect your data.
We’ve all been there. You’re searching for a pair of shoes, a kitchen gadget, or an all-inclusive resort online and then you see an ad for it immediately on Facebook.
When browsing the internet, you leave behind digital traces that websites can legally use to keep track of your activities and identify you. Online targeted advertisements use data from your browser to make marketing more personalized. The data collected can include; your location, the type of device you’re using, which links you’ve clicked on, and much more.
In this four part series, we’ll reveal the data that you unknowingly divulge as you browse the web. We’ll break down the three most prolific sources of data collection, and ways to prevent your data from being exposed.
What Your Browser Collects
Regardless of your security settings, your web browser inevitably reveals certain data to the websites you visit. From the moment you go online, your IP address – which can be used to pinpoint your approximate location – is shared.
Your browser also reveals its name, allowing sites to know whether you’re a Chrome Firefox, or Internet Explorer user.
It can even share information about your computer system, including; your desktop or mobile OS, the CPU and GPU models, the display resolution, and even the current battery level if you’re using a laptop, tablet, or phone.
If you’re interested in seeing some of this information yourself, visit Webkay to view all of the information sites can access about you without your explicit permission.
Screenshots from Webkay .
Sites can also choose to monitor your inputs much more closely. To see what kind of tracking is done, visit Click, which tracks your mouse clicks, mouse movements, and any other browser actions.
Screenshot from Click .
Browser fingerprinting is another method used by sites to identify users – even if they don’t enter any personally identifiable information (PII).
The above data is just the beginning of how sites identify individual visitors. Your browser revealing that you’re using a MacBook from somewhere in Fresno, California doesn’t narrow it down enough for a site to pinpoint your identity, but it can be combined with other data points to distinguish you from other users.
Your browser broadcasts your unique combination of screen size, hardware, browser plugins, browser software, etc.—which can identify you even without any other information.
Since it’s highly unlikely that someone else is using your specific combination of hardware and settings, sites can easily determine that you are the same person that visited their site last week and serve you relevant advertisements. The Panopticlick test from the Electronic Frontier Foundation can tell if your browser is safe against this type of tracking.
Screenshot from Panopticlick
While this level of data collection may be enough to make you consider going off the grid, it is just the tip of the iceberg. The next layer is the data that websites harvest themselves.
Stay tuned for Part 2 to learn more about the data you reveal online.