What type of data is collected by websites: Tips to ensure online privacy
The Internet is all about data. When one is online, no information is private. Even when a person visits a website, it starts collecting data such as one’s IP address, email address, the location of the device, the device’s technical configuration and much more.
Whether the user is playing games or scrolling through social media, their information is being collected and used to make a digital profile. This information can be used to run targeted ad campaigns and more.
Here are five common types of data collected by websites and apps online about users.
The most common type of information that websites collect is a user’s IP address. The IP address shows one’s general location, and can be thought of a bit like a real-world address. For example, if one wanted to send a letter to someone, they would need to write their address on the letter.
The problem is that websites can find a lot about a user from an IP address, and could even potentially track a user to their doorstep. That is why a lot of people use a virtual private network which masks their IP address.
A VPN disguises one’s actual IP address and gives them the new IP address of the server they are connected to. This confuses websites,who cannot see the real IP address. This way, not even one’s ISP can see their online activities. For example, if a user is connected to a top UK VPN server, they will get a UK IP address, regardless of their actual location.
A cookie is a file that collects and stores information online, and websites collect data by placing cookies on the computer which is being used. Cookies collect the following kind of information:
- The user’s name and password
- The user’s location
- How many times the user visits a website or page
- The user’s preferences such as likes, preferred language, font size and more
Cookies are used to deliver a personalised online experience, and they are also used to target a user with ads. However, in extreme cases, cookies can be used to track your online activities.
There are two kinds of cookies:
- Session cookies: these are temporarily stored on the user’s computer and are never stored on the hard drive of the device.
- Persistent cookies: these are long-term cookies stored on the user’s computer, containing information such as website visits, page likes, log-in details, etc.
To counter this, one can use a VPN, as most providers come with ad and tracking blockers to automatically block online trackers embedded in cookies and ads.
Websites may also store the details regarding the device one is using – including model, software and browser. It may seem harmless, but this can potentially be used to track a specific device. To counter this, one can use a virtual machine that provides vague information to the website regarding the device that is being used.
Invisible trackers are included in websites, apps and external sites. These can be found on major news sites and popular apps. Invisible trackers are often made part of the advertising content or embedded in the site, so one cannot really see them.
Trackers are also embedded in cookies and websites could be potentially insert tracking cookies without one’s knowledge. However, a user can stop that by changing their browser’s privacy settings and regularly deleting cookies and browsing history.
That is why when one searches for a product on Google, it will show ads of that product on different web pages. Fortunately, there are browsers such as DuckDuckGo which does not track users online.
The most common thing one will see on the internet is autofill data. When a user visits a new website and adds shipping details, their browser automatically starts filling in data like address, city and email ID. It is a convenient feature, which is why it goes unseen. However, it also poses privacy threats.
Hackers can potentially capture the information when a user autofills on unsecured sites. This means that a website could capture important data without the user’s knowledge. And this personally identifiable information, such as an address, social security number or credit card details, could be harmful in the wrong hands.
Tips to ensure online privacy
Now that we have outlined what kind of data is being collected by sites, here are some tips one might consider in order to protect their data online:
- Getting a VPN and enabling it before using the internet. This way, the IP address will be masked, and no one can track the user’s location. VPNs also help with ad, malware blocking as well.
- Using a different password for websites, social medi, and accounts. One can also use a password manager.
- Using private browsers that collect minimal data, such as DuckDuckGo.
- Using separate email IDs for social media, websites, shopping sites, etc.
- Not accepting cookies on websites before reading what information is collected.
- Regularly deleting browser cookies and cache.
- Making sure the sites one visits are HTTPS; avoiding using HTTP sites.
The editorial unit