What Is Web Tracking?
Web tracking is the activity (and ability) of a website (using special software tools) to keep tabs on website visitors. As you might expect, Web tracking is meant to improve your experience online with that website—much in the same way that television commercials are intended to improve your life (not just your TV-viewing experience) when you watch TV. Plus, TV commercials pay for the TV shows that are on. We understand that.
But...how many of us really like television commercials? And how would we like it if we knew that those TV advertisers were (without our permission) somehow tracking what commercials we were watching on what shows? Or when we switched channels, or when we bought something, or when we called a telephone number because the commercial told us to "call now"?
We wouldn't like that at all.
And that's pretty much what Web trackers do. They keep tabs on your Internet activity. They may know your name (if you have opened an account online), or they may not know your name but simply "know" your interests. One more thing: Many of these Web-tracking websites will share information with other websites, in order to build a fuller, or more accurate, profile of you, Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. Consumer. And without going into a great amount of detail, that's all we need to know.
How you're tracked.
Bugs embedded in websites report back to the Web manager whenever you've viewed a page. Many sites use "cookies" to gather stats on your browsing history, and even your favorite social networks could play a part in keeping tabs on you.
And all this happens without your knowing a thing about it. It happens totally in the background, behind the scenes, and without your knowledge...or approval. Between all your favorite websites, thousands of advertisers, and online tracking companies, there's bound to be a handful of groups that want to know what you're doing.
The Web browser Firefox released a new feature called Lightbeam that gives you a glimpse of who it is that's tracking you when you're online (if you use the Firefox browser, that is). It lets you follow the tracking activity for your online behavior, and it will give you a clear visual idea of what's going on with your personal Web activity.
More than that, it will open your eyes to what's going on every time you go online.