Cookies and Data Collection
Posted by admin on November 22, 2018
On the internet you might feel as though you’re anonymous, just another user who is faceless, nameless, and lacks any sort of electronic footprint. However, that may not entirely be the case, as with each and every website you visit, a small profile is built up about you and that is done so in the form of cookies.
Cookies are relatively harmless, as will be clarified later on, however, the impact that these cookies can have on your internet presence is not so harmless if it falls into the wrong hands, as is the case with Facebook. Facebook is intended to be used as a means to keep in touch with family, friends, watch silly videos and even post about your day to day activities – but in the background they are tracking nearly everything you do – from what videos you watch, who you talk to, where you visit, when you access the site/application, and what advertisements pique your interest.
Partnerships developed by Facebook allowed them to access your data, and the information shared by your friends; their relationship status, political views, events they would attend, religious affiliations – just to name a few – exploiting any sort of privacy that was expected. This data, although it may seem minor, could be sold to other companies that you may have never heard of or ever interacted with, and with that your personal preferences are known by a multitude of people without you ever realizing it, and it all begins with a simple report created by your browser.
What does your browser report?
As soon as you access a website, your IP address becomes known, which can be used to approximate your location, followed by the browser type you use, be it Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, etc. Then comes the information about the operating system you are currently running, whether that may be a desktop or mobile OS, details about the CPU/GPU models, display resolution and even your current battery level. Based on the details accumulated by the report, you leave a unique fingerprint, created by your specific preferences as it’s unlikely anyone else in the world has the same preferences on their browser in terms of font choice, plug-ins, bookmarks, etc. – this can help websites make a good guess that you are the same individual who accessed the website a week, a month, or even a year ago – allowing them to cater to you accordingly.
What are cookies and pixels?
Cookies have existed for almost as long as the internet has, they are pieces of code that servers use to put information on a user’s browser in order to retrieve that later on for a variety of purposes. A good example of this would be when you access a forum and see posts that have been updated since your last visit, versus being told every post is a new post, or when you access Netflix and can access a movie or TV show at the last point you stopped watching, rather than trying to scroll through to find out what episode you last watched, or what minute you paused your movie. Cookies also allow ads to be catered to the individual, based on what their interests may be, through information accumulated over time. Pixels on the other hand, although similar to cookies, allow you to track the same user across multiple sites – through the use of a 1×1 (pixel-sized) image loading in the background, which enables a cookie to be sent to the website the image originated from, in turn, allowing them to prepare a report for the site the user is currently on.
What information do they store?
The information stored in cookies don’t generally include personal data, and is usually intended to help you load a site faster and more efficiently. They store information to help you log into a website without having to take the effort in doing so yourself, however they do not scan your computer, or track any details about you – any personal information that may be stored is a result of your input into the website. When a cookie does store personal information, the information is coded in a way that it is considered unreadable to any third party who may have access to your cookies – the only computer that can decode the information is the one that created that information in the first place. They are however used by ad exchanges to serve you ads online.
What can you do?
In all browsers, there are simple solutions to disabling cookies, mainly through accessing your browsers settings and preferences. From there, you can choose to whitelist certain websites to enable cookies, or completely disable all cookies. This would of course mean all the information you are used to having filled for you instantly (logins, things you’ve previously searched for, etc) will no longer be accessible as there is no previous information for the website to offer you. There are even means to stop scripts from running in the background to disable pixels, such as browser plug-ins/extensions.
This is considered to be a breach of trust, as you may have accessed a website for the first time ever but find that the ads are catered to what you may have previously searched for, in doing this, ads become intrusive and break the barriers of privacy. We believe these methods are broken and outdated, with solutions like web-mining overtaking them in the near future.