If you visit a website that sells say clothes, then the website will almost certainly include some kind of tracking.
This is so the owners can look at how people shop on their site – which pages are accessed the most, what do people do after marking an item for purchase – do they go straight to the checkout or keep browsing etc.?
They can use this analysis to improve their website and hence make it a better place to shop.
This makes sense and isn’t really intrusive – you pretty much expect the website owners to be interested in how people shop on their site and how to improve it.
It is very common now that you look at items for sale on one website then find those items appear as adverts on other websites you visit.
The basic idea is that advertising can be targeted at people who have already shown an interest in specific products.
This happens a lot with Amazon – you view some items then the next websites you visit show ads for those items whether or not you actually bought them.
For some people this is an improvement on adverts for completely random items, but for others it’s an intrusion into their privacy as it shows information on your browsing habits appears to be getting passed from company to company.
That isn’t entirely true as what happens is that, for example:-
A. You visit Amazon and view boat shoes
B. You then visit company B which has a deal with Amazon to let Amazon shows its adverts on the website
C. Amazon knows you have looked at boat shoes and picks adverts for those products to show on the website of company B.
D. You see ads for the boat shoes you viewed on Amazon, but data has not changed hands.
Closer Targeted Advertising
Companies are trying more closely targeted advertising. For example Facebook recently announced a new feature that lets businesses target families. One member of a family may look at a travel site of Italian villas then the rest of the family see targeted advertising of Italian villas as well.
Again, for some people it’s better to see adverts they may possibly be interested in rather than random ones, but for others this is an invasion of privacy.
How Do They Track My Browsing Activities?
Tracking cookies can collect a lot of information about your device, including Your IP address, screen size, time-zone, plug-ins, and operating system. These items add up to become your “browsing fingerprint”.
These identifiers are not unique per person but less than one in a million will have the same browsing fingerprint.
If a company has trackers in lots of different websites across the internet, they can recognise you by this fingerprint.
They use tracking cookies (and website logs if they own the website) to record your browsing history.
What Profiles Are There On Me?
That depends on which websites you browse, which search engines you use and which if any add-ons you have installed.
In the European Union, companies have to show you the information they have on you if you ask for it, due to European privacy laws which include the statement “Anyone interacting with an EU company or government agency can, for any reason, request all the data that entity has about oneself, and the company or government agency must comply”.
These profiles may well contain errors so if you get copies of it then you can ask for changes to be made.
However, you will have to prove who you are and the companies will store that information about you.
Google basically stores everything – every search whether typed in or spoken.
If you go to “Google Adverts settings” then you can see a little of what Google knows about you.
If you go to Google Settings you can delete your browsing history and cookies etc. if you wish. Note that deleting cookies may mean websites that remembered you will not next time.
Google's location history, or timeline page, brings up a Google Map and allows you to select specific dates and times and see where you were. Its accuracy depends on whether you were signed into your Google account and carrying a phone or tablet at the time.
If you want to delete this, then on the timeline page click the settings button in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen and select delete all.
Delete all your online accounts at Deseat.me
If you want to delete profiles that companies hold about you on the Internet, then the Swedish website Deseat.me gives that a go. It uses your Google login to find as many profiles as possible and delete them.
Once you logged in, it brings up your online and social media accounts and allows you to delete yourself from them.
This doesn’t cover everything on the Internet about you of course, but it’s a start. And if you use the relevant websites again then they will build a new profile about you.