Remember several years ago when we first heard of the term cookies tracking? It is a technique that allow online marketers to display advertisements that are related to the user’s recent search or browsing history. This technique raised many privacy concern, many people did not like the fact that some advertisement companies have access to their browsing history, it feels like someone is always monitoring their online activities. However, there are still some people that think this technique is okay, people that rather see ads they interested in than seeing some random ads that are not relevant to their interests.
Cookies is a string of data that is specific to a web session, the online marketers use the third parties cookies that are issued by the websites that the user had visited, and from this third parties cookies the online marketers can know what products or services that the user had searched for or read about, and then they can display advertisements that are closely related to these products or services the the user is interested in. However, there is certain limitations for Cookies; Cookies can only exist in a single browser and they are stored in the user’s local computer. So if the user changes a browser or delete the Cookies then the Cookies tracking technique will not work. Because many users have privacy concern related to Cookies tracking, most of the major browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, IE) now will ask the user if they want to be in “Do not track” mode. the “Do not track” mode simply disable the third parties Cookies (Cookies that the marketer rely on) and retains the functionality of the first party cookies.
Furthermore, third parties Cookies only work for computer browsers. As smartphone become more and more popular and powerful, a lot of the searches and web browsing are done by smartphones, as a result, Cookies tracking is becoming a less effective online marketing technique. So what come next for online marketers after Cookie tracking?
Other than the traditional Cookie based online advertising, there is also a method called the email based online advertising started several years ago, mainly by Facebook. As Cookies start loosing its popularity and more online browsing are done by smartphone, more and more online marketers are going for the email based online marketing. As one of the giant in this email based online marketing business, Facebook offer a service call the “Custom audience” (https://www.facebook.com/business/help/341425252616329 ) in which online marketers can submit a list of user email address, and Facebook will provides a list of advertisments that is appropriate to show to these online users. This is nearly impossible to block by user because most of us will just use a few, if not one, email address for all of our online activities (sign up for Amazon, Facebook, Twitter or any other online media, etc.).
There is also a recently developed technology called the online fingerprinting, this technology allow website to analyze the unique characteristics of the browser and the user’s system, and then use this data to track and identify each individual end user. Compare to Cookie tracking, the online fingerprinting technique is very difficult to block by end users, the major reason is because now all the user’s data is stored on the server(the website) side; there is nothing that are stored in the end user’s system, so if the user tries to erase all browsing histories and cookies, this technique will still works because all the unique characteristic of the end user’s system is preserved. Also there is so many variance for the the system (such as user behavior, software version, plugin installed, etc) so that this technique can be very successful on identifying individual user and keep track of their browsing habit.
So the lesson learned here is that our online activities will only become more and more transparent as technologies advanced, no matter how hard the regular users try to hide their online footprints, there’s always some methods that can be used to track their online activities.
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