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What is a Web Bug/Beacon?

A web bug also referred to as a web beacon is a file object, usually a transparent graphic image. A web bug can come unnoticeably through an email or it can be on a web page one may access while online. A web bug or beacon is a type of spy ware. It's used to monitor the things a user does online. It's used a lot by spammers to confirm the email addresses of users. Once the user opens a email sent by a spammer, the web beacon sends information back to the sender that way they know you opened the email. Web bugs are also used to show how many people have visited a website. Ad networks use web beacons to add the user's information to their personal report of what websites the user is visiting.

It's hard to detect an web bug in your email or on a web page. Why? The image always blends in with the background color of the page. Unlike a cookie which can accept or refused by the browser user a web bug shows up in GIF (Graphic Interchange Format - a graphic format used by on the World wide Web.) Your browser has no choice but to accept it. A web beacon only takes up a tiny amount of space it's not larger than a 1 by 1 pixel, this makes it even harder to identify.

Usually a web bug can be identified by looking at the source code of a web page. If you see that a IMG tag loaded from a different server than the other ones, then you will know that web bug is on the page you are on. A web bug is loaded from a different server so that they are easily distinguished from regular GIF files.

Although many people object to the use of web bugs on web pages and emails some argue that it has it's benefits. They feel that the web beacon can actually be used for good. See a web beacon can do the following:

  • It can gather the IP address of the computer that has a web bug on it
  • The URL of the web page the bug is located on
  • The URL of the page the bug came from
  • The time the bug was observed
  • A set cookie value
  • The type of browser that was used to get web bug graphic image

Web bugs are a very controversial issue, because they watches a user activity without their knowledge. But as you can see a web bug can used for both good and bad. It does has it's benefits but it also can put a user at risk while on the internet. There are a couple of things you as a user can do to make sure your activity on the web is recorded by the web bug. If you detect one on it you can turn off the browser cookies this will prevent your activity from being tracked. This your best defense against web bug.

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