NetTrax: You’re leaving cookie crumbs on the net … lots of them

What happens when you click to a web site?

Short answer: you have new cookies installed on your computer or have old cookies modified  … whether you know it or not … and  you then spew crumbs all over the Internet … letting companies track you, profile you, and hard sell you stuff.

Here’s a visual of what a couple of clicks can do … each dot represents a  site or company that can grab your information … just because you innocently clicked.

Later we’ll explain the graphic and what’s going on.


First some background on web tracking …

In 2010, the Wall Street Journal focused a series of articles on Internet tracking … i.e. websites capturing data that records your web movements: what sites you visit, what ads & products you look at, how long you stayed “engaged” on a web page, what you buy, etc.

In the article The Web’s New Goldmine the WSJ reported that the “nation’s 50 top websites on average installed 64 pieces of tracking technology onto the computers of visitors, usually with no warning … and, over two-thirds—were installed by 131 companies …which are in the business of tracking Web users to create rich databases of consumer profiles that can be sold.”


The trackers tool of choice is still the ubiquitous “cookie”

In case you’ve been on Mars ..

A cookie is an  information file  that a site saves to your computer using your web browser.

A cookie allows sites to record your browsing activities – like what pages and content you’ve looked at, when you visited, what you searched for, and whether you clicked on an ad.

Data collected by cookies can be combined to create a profile of your online activities.

Basically, there are 2 types of cookies: First-Party Cookies and Third-Party Cookies.

For the record: You & i are the “Second-Parties” in this food chain.

First-party cookies are placed by a site (think, Amazon) when you visit it.

They can make your experience on the web more efficient.

For example, allow sites to remember: your log-in name, items in your shopping cart, and your preferences, like always showing the weather in your home town

Third-party cookies are placed by someone other than the site you are on.

Third-party cookies are placed by advertisers and others who are in partnership with the first-party..

These third-parties may include an advertising network or a company that helps deliver the ads tailored to your interests.

For example, if you read an article online about running, a cookie may be used to note your interest in running, and add that to your profile so that advertisers can shoot running shoe ads at you.

According to the WSJ, third-party tracking is the most intrusive monitoring because over time the tracking company can build a robust profile of net surfers, link them to specific computers, and come pretty close to identifying them by name.

More on that in later posts.

For now, click the icon below to view a short & cool Washington Post video “The fight over who can track us on the web” … it shows how a few quick clicks hooks you into the web’s ecosystem … my bet: it’ll catch your attention.

click to view video

You might even want to make the graphic your computer’s wallpaper … just to remind you the next time that you click.

Thanks to Prof. Betsy Sigman for feeding the lead re: WaPo video

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One Response to “NetTrax: You’re leaving cookie crumbs on the net … lots of them”

  1. John Carpenter Says:

    Every browser has a way to automatically erase these things on exit. It is customizable to delete only what you wish or everything. In IE….Tools, Internet Options, Delete Browsing History on Exit. It will not keep you completely clean of cookies, but it will help, especially if you keep your browsing sessions short.

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