Have you ever wondered why, when you surf the Internet, you frequently see advertising for goods and services which you have previously browsed or bought? Or why you get a pile of emails with credit deals or excursions? Do you accept these small annoyances for comfort and saving time when shopping online?
What are web analytics?
Imagine that you have an army of invisible companions who watch your every move on the internet, who know that you had a great time at the party last night, that you have taken out a loan for your new car and where your child was at a birthday party last week. These small observers are specialist analytical services, which practically every supplier uses on their website to find out the sites that their visitors have come from, which areas and sub-pages they visit, which terms they use in Internet searches and how much time it takes them to make a purchase in an online shop. These analysis services, also known as web analytics, know that you like going to department stores instead of large shopping centers, that you eat vegan and that you have just moved house. The website providers collect their data, in order to evaluate them and to create individual user profiles, so that they can show you advertising for goods and services precisely tailored to your preferences.
How do web analytics work?
Web analytics can collect your data and analyze your browsing behavior with different methods, for example with a cookie-based analysis. In a cookie-based analysis, an invisible mini-picture (cookie) is integrated into the source code of the visited web site and stored on your computer . Cookies store lots of information over your behavior on the internet and recognizable user profile of you.
Where does the danger lie with web analysis?
The danger with web analysis consists in the collection of data which can be connected to your identity, for example your IP address. Every IP address is allocated to a computer/user. Should a third party obtain your full IP address, they can get information not just on your operating system, internet browser and other technical details, but can even determine your exact location and your name. That means that others can gain access to your personal data. These are, however, legally protected in Germany and may only be used by third parties with your express consent.
The website operators do not usually analyze the data themselves, but engage service providers who collect visitor data, save them on their servers and then make them available to the website operators. If the server of the service providers is located outside Germany, it is uncertain how much the data protection regulations of other countries protect your data from fraud. Your most sensitive data could therefore get into the hands of criminals.
Is there protection from data fraud?
According to German law, user profiles can be created under a pseudonym. User profiles contain IP addresses which are allocated to specific people and as such are not pseudonyms. Therefore they may not be collected by third parties without your consent. The providers may, however, save abbreviated IP addresses, which only show that you are, for example, in the European Union. In addition, German website operators are obliged to a data separation, i.e., your personal data may only be conducted separately from your pseudonym.
Providers must indicate on their websites and in their data protection statements when they create user profiles. The purpose and scope of data collection and the use of web analytics, including information on the used analysis service must also be indicated. Visitors of websites should also be able to disagree to web analysis. Google Analytics and Piwik Analytics offer the opportunity to disagree to web analysis in the data protection statement of the respective website operator with one click.
What you can do to protect yourself against web analysis.
Reputable website operators always make reference to the use of web analytics in their data protection statements. They also offer the opportunity to disagree to web analytics. Use this opportunity!
Create certain settings in your browser which can prevent a web analysis. The option "do not track can be activated on many programs.
Deactivate the cookie function in the privacy settings of your internet browser.
Surfing in private or incognito mode makes tracking more difficult.
Make enquiries with your internet service provider as to whether they will allocate you with a dynamic IP address. A dynamic IP address changes itself every time you start a new internet connection.
There is, however, no 100% protection. Therefore, pay attention to what information you give about yourself online.