Whether you realize it or not, many of the websites that you visit collect data about your browsing habits.
Data tracking informs websites about your preferences, and can actually improve your online experience. This practice is what allows websites to remember your login credentials, and the items in your shopping cart. Other times, websites collect data from users to tailor advertisements based on browsing history.
It’s important to understand how websites track you, so that you can practice safe and informed website browsing.
Cookies are at the crux of tracking user information. A cookie is a small piece of data that is stored on your computer whenever you visit a website.
According to Norton, cookies help websites keep track of your activity. In many cases, this can be helpful. For example, cookies allow users to set aside items in their shopping carts while they continue to browse online stores. Without cookies, your shopping cart items would disappear every time you refreshed a web page.
Cookies aren’t the only way to gather data like this. According to The Federal Trade Commission, certain websites use device fingerprinting to track online activity. This type of tracking isn’t limited to a laptop or PC. Device fingerprinting can follow your activity on other connected devices like smartphones or tablets.
You might be wondering how to opt out of cookies and tracking altogether. While you have the option to disable cookies in your web browser, The Federal Trade Commission warns that this might lead to frustrating online experiences. For example, if you expect websites to remember your login information, disabling cookies will require that you re-enter your username and password every time you visit a site.
You also have the option to disable third-party cookies, which are often placed by advertising networks. If you don’t want to see the same ads for the shoes you were eyeing last week, consider disabling third-party cookies.
Your website might not require sophisticated tracking tools. For many webmasters, robust data collection is unnecessary.
You might consider collecting data from your site visitors in other ways, such as through a contact form. A contact form is a great way to start conversations with your visitors. If you’re creating a form for the first time, remember that less is more. Most people don’t want to hand over personal information like their phone numbers or mailing addresses. Only ask for the information that you realistically need.
If you choose to use a contact form, keep in mind that it’s not a secure method of payment information collection. Never use an online form to ask visitors for their most sensitive data.
Having a basic understanding of how websites track you can be helpful. Just be sure to remember that tracking doesn’t necessarily equate to having nefarious intentions, so use common sense as you browse online.