Internet Tracking : The good, bad and ugly

Internet Tracking : The good, bad and ugly

You may not realize it, but most of your  Internet usage is tracked.  Yes, thats right almost everything you do is tracked and stored somewhere.

Everything, you do, say or even interact with on the  Internet is tracked, stored and analyzed and even freely distributed for others to analyze, store and action.

The common misconception is that all the data is somehow gathered by the CIA, NSA, GCHQ, MI5 or any other government intelligence services.

The truth is,  these organizations are the least of your concerns and are only the very tip of the iceberg in the internet tracking world.

Your browsing habits are tracked by hundreds and thousands even millions of organizations globally.

You are being tracked everywhere online

You may be aware that you’re being tracked online.  Indeed most of us are at the point where we’re not surprised when an ad for something we searched for on one site appears on the next site we visit.

Besides this being an example of really lazy and shockingly bad marketing & advertising – why on earth do you want to keep receiving advertisements for products you may have already purchased, or no longer interested in buying – it’s also an example of just how you’re being tracked and targeted on the internet.

We know that many pages – yes, that right! this one you’re reading, too – drop cookies and other scripts into your browser to keep tabs on your activity in an attempt to gain a better understanding of you as a customer , in order to try and sell you stuff.

Even the most benign of websites will on average have 6-8 trackers enabled. For example,  even while you are reading this page, we’re collecting data using the following services and plugins.

  • Google Analytics
  • WordPress Statistic
  • Disqus
  • Gravatar

Who in turn will be making use of additional third parties and other services to collate further information. Compared to any number of other sites, this site is very light in the tracker count.

Digital Marketing

The major drive behind the increasing demand for internet tracking, is obviously the rise of Digital Marketing.

Digital Marketing typically includes the following services:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)
  • Pay Per Click (PPC)
  • Cost Per Click(CPC)
  • Email Marketing
  • Customer Contact Management (CCM)
  • Content Marketing
  • Content Optimization
  • Content Strategy

To be effective all these services require the collection and analyses of vast amounts of data. Commonly refered to as Big Data, or Data Driven Marketing

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

One of the first things you learn pretty quickly on the web is the importance of SEO.  Without following even some basic principles of SEO, you’re pretty much wasting your time writing and developing content for your website or blog.

In order for your content to have it’s desired impact , which after all is all about Creating and Converting leads, you need to write content that people are searching for to ensure it is available for them at the time they are searching.

Put the right product in the right place, at the right price at the right time.

The first step in conducting an effective and efficient SEO strategy requires collecting, collating and analyzing data.  A lot of web analytics data.

Contrary to popular belief this doesn’t necessarily mean analysis of your website data.  It actually also includes analysis of all your competitors web analytics, and several other sources of web data.

Web analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of web data for purposes of understanding and optimizing web usage.

To successfully determine what keywords and search phrases you want your website to rank for and target, you need to know what keywords and search phrases your prospective customers use to search.

Where do you get SEO data ?

This is the most likely point most businesses get involved in the world of Internet Usage Tracking .  In order to start getting data on keywords and traffic , the prime candidate is Google,  two of their key tools Google Analytics and Google Keyword Planner .

A vast majority of websites at a minimum include Google Analytics tracking code.  Enabling the to tracking of visits and deriving vital information about visitors which is used to improve website layouts and contents.

In order to establish which keywords to target and to include within your content marketing strategy, you’ll make use if Keyword Planner.  Although the tool isprimarily used for planning Google Adsense campaigns, it’s also vital component for content producers.

This treasure trove of information that is used by digital marketers the world over, is all dutifully collected, collated and stored by Google, making use of it many tools designed to track users browsing habits.

Now you’re hooked!

This is the point where most businesses become hooked on data!  Like all addicts there is now a need for more powerful and increased volume data to improve the highs!

The traffic to your website starts increasing, but you realize that not every visit results in a lead or a sale! What on earth could be wrong?

You’ve worked hard on your content, you’re convinced that it’s what your visitors are searching for, but that phone isn’t ringing and your sales team are still listening to the sound of crickets!

There is only one thing for it!  More Data! , and like all junkies we don’t really care where it comes from! Just as long as it does its job!

How are people using your website ?

You start wishing there was some way you can watch every single visitor that visits your website and what it is exactly that they’re doing on it!

Lucky Orange

Lucky Orange -The Original All-in-One Conversion Optimization Suite , helps you collect all this useful and relevant information about users on your website!

Lucky Orange is a great tool! I have found it extremely useful over the years, and it has really helped me to refine the information architecture of my webpages, helping me understand how people actually browse my site. I have found the HeatMaps feature extremely enlightening. Providing me with proof, that right hand columns on most websites are literally no go zones for most users.

Lucky Orange undoubtedly provides great value for website owners and marketers. However, there is very little value for the visitors of websites, and often just results in yet another repository where their web browsing data is stored.

As with most web browsing data, the data stored by Lucky Orange is anonymised, but unfortunately this does not guarantee that the user will remain anonymous!

Data, Data and more Data

Unfortunately, like all junkies, the data habit soon starts to spiral out of control, before you know it you’ll have all manner of data collection points. You’ll soon have your Customer Relationship Manager (CRM) configured to track all your customer visits to your website.

You’ll also be collating and collecting lists of potential customers and storing them in your CRM. You’ll be attempting to collect email addresses and names.

You’ll be driven to clean, validate and quantify the data, in order to gain more insights.

The downside to data addiction

For businesses this data frenzy is fantastic. Unfortunately for the average user its a curse. This is due to the fact that it is a serious invasion of privacy.

We constantly advised that all data collected in anonymised and cannot be traced back to individual users. Unfortunately this is also the greatest lie and misconception of our time.

Anonymisation is the process of turning data into a form which does not identify individuals and where identification is not likely to take place. This allows for a much wider use of the information. The Data Protection Act controls how organisations use ‘personal data’ – that is, information which allows individuals to be identified.

Information Commissioners Office

The truth is, advances in Data mining enable this data to de-anonimzed in seconds. Although there are several attempts to try and make this practice illegal, it still isn’t much use when there are already criminal gangs involved!

De-anonymization is a data mining strategy in which anonymous data is cross-referenced with other data sources to re-identify the anonymous data source.


Privatize your browser

Fortunately, there are steps users can now take to miniize the impact of this intrusion of privacy without the need to start wearing tin hats!

Although there have been Chrome browser based plugins like Adblock plus and Ghostery have been available for years, and there are now a few choices of search engines like Duck Duck Go that don’t track your search behaviour. Very few people, in comparison to the web population actually use them.

There is now a new browser available Brave Browser -which blocks the ads and trackers that slow you down, spend your bandwidth, and invade your privacy. Take a look at the new Brave Browser, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how private the internet can be.

For the even more paranoid there is also the Tor browser which helps you surf the internet anonymously, albeit rather slowly, which is now completely integrated with the Brave Browser.

What is the Brave Browser

Brave launched in 2016 as a privacy-focused web browser. It blocks ads, trackers, and malware by default, which makes browsing faster and safer.

What is Tor

Originally known as The Onion Router, Tor is free software used for anonymous communication. It relays your communications around a global volunteer overlay network to hide your location and usage from surveillance. In doing so, Tor protects your personal privacy and freedom to communicate with others without fear of being monitored. 

Use a VPN

A VPN is a Virtual Private Network. VPN’s are fairly common and chances are you may have already used one without knowing it. Many school and business networks use VPNs to increase security and allow secure remote access to the network. This implementation of VPN technology isn’t generally focused on anonymity or a high level of encryption, but this can vary on a case-to-case basis.

A common prominent implementation of VPN technology is known as Commercial VPN. Commercial VPNs are VPNs that allow paying consumers to access their networks. These VPNs have a strong focus on privacy, often encrypting data to to an extent that neither an ISP or government are able to decrypt it.

Many come with an assortment of extra features, but the primary goals of a VPN provider are to provide privacy and security to their users, along with geo-spoofing and specialized encrypted messaging apps.

The Tor browser is a particularly effective tool, but the security level it provides as much as if you do if you use Tor combined with a VPN, Get secure and reliable VPN at just $1.88/mo! .

While Tor works through “layers” of encryption and redirections, VPNs use various VPN protocols to protect and anonymize their data. These protocols, like L2TP and OpenVPN, offer great performance and much lower latency than the Tor network, allowing users to more easily share files and stream video than your typical Tor connection would allow.

Why use Tor and VPN

Both Tor and VPN’s are made to protect the privacy of the user and the security of their data. They’re both capable of bypassing government censorship and allowing for safe, encrypted communication between their users. There are a few key differentiators, however, and we’ll go over those now.

VPNs are:

  • Much faster, thank to VPN protocols designed to maximize speed while still using secure encryption.
  • Generally, a premium option, as free VPNs either offer a poor experience or are simply unsafe to use.
  • Far better suited to filesharing.

Tor is:

  • Much slower than a VPN, due to the nature of onion routing and its encryption. In theory, this could make Tor more secure, but the latest VPN protocols have yet to be broken.
  • A completely free, open source application via the Tor Browser. You don’t have to pay a cent for Tor’s great security.
  • Poorly suited to file-sharing and related applications due to slow network speeds.
  • Allows access to .onion domains. These domains are only accessible via Tor, and offer access to secure, hidden services.