Every email, photo, or post you send/publish, every webpage you visit, and every link you click, leave a trail. The same happens even when you are reading a social media post or article. This technical term used for this trail is “digital footprint”. Companies use the digital footprint of people to obtain their personal info such as political affiliation, demographics, religion, interests, and so on.
As our digital footprint reveals lots of confidential information about us, it’s important that we take the required steps to protect our privacy online. You can prevent your personal data from becoming public by being alert about things you are posting online. Using privacy tools such as VPNs and ad-blockers will also help.
To protect your privacy online you must also know the procedures companies are adopting to spy on you. The section below talks about five of the most common methods big companies use to watch your activities online.
The term “tracking pixels” is used for invisible image files (measuring 1×1 pixel) placed inside emails without the recipient’s knowledge. Companies keep sending emails containing these tracking pixels to their customers.
Tracking pixels use basic HTML technology to complete its functions. The emails that we send to our friends tend to contain only plain text. However, some companies embed HTML-based images into the business emails they send to existing and potential customers. These may include images of products they sell, their official logo, etc. The tracking pixels are usually present in those images.
When the recipient opens the email, the tracking pixel carrying a unique code sends his/her personal data back to the company’s server. This action of the tracking pixels provides businesses with access to private data such as the location where the recipient opened the email, how many times he/she opened it, and so on.
The worst thing about tracking pixels is that they will not allow you to choose whether you would like to take part in the tracking procedure or not.
Web profiling, better known as cookie profiling, is a process that involves the use of permanent or persistent cookies for tracking the online activities of users. This form of tracking doesn’t take place only when you visit a specific website. It occurs whenever you engage in online browsing.
Cookie profiling is mostly carried out by marketers owning the advertising rights on numerous popular websites. They use the procedure to collect cookie information to prepare a unique profile for every targeted user.
Indeed, cookies don’t possess the ability to read users’ hard drives to collect information about them. However, they can surely collect any personal data users provide to websites. These include sensitive data like credit card details, your address, phone number, etc. If you don’t want your personal information to be stored in a cookie, turn off your browse’s cookie feature.
Keyword Planner is most frequently used for making search engine optimization campaigns more effective. However, it also has another not-so-common use. Many companies use the tool for spying on customers of their rival groups.
Keyword Planner allows companies to find out keywords the customers of their competitors are entering into the search engine when researching a product/service.
While this action of the tool doesn’t harm the consumers directly, it often makes their browsing experience miserable. Whenever you enter the identified keywords, you will see images of products/services offered by rivals of your preferred company arriving on the search result pages.
With the growing importance of search engine optimization more and more developers are coming up with tools that make SEO a less troublesome job for businesses. For example, some developers have come up with software suites that contain tools for keyword research, link building, rank tracking, and competitor analysis.
You will also come across tools that are developed particularly for spying on competitors. These tools reveal backlinks to competitor websites. Businesses use these tools to see what influencers and bloggers think about their rival brands and discover areas where they need improvement. Implementing those findings allow companies to attract customers of their competitors their way.
However, these tools also result in the loss of privacy of users. They reveal their browsing habit, their demography, and a host of other personal data.
Many businesses track the searching pattern of their potential customers by setting up Google Alerts. This means whenever a rival brand is mentioned by someone online, Google Alerts alert those businesses about it.