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I am concerned about my privacy. I have read in multiple websites and forums that it is very common for Web applications to track my activities. However, I have no clear idea of the actual mechanisms they do this, or what sort of technologies are used to achieve it.

What kind of mechanisms are used to track users's actions in websites / Web applications?

Thanks very much!

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4 Answers 4

HTTP cookies are the most common. They are usually written and read by the site you are visiting (the "first party"), but also (depending on your browser and browser settings) written and read by third-party elements on the page you are visiting.

Also common are small image elements, served from various tracking servers (these are common in commercial emails too). Just like the information you make available by default when visiting any web page, these image elements can also gather basic browser environment details (e.g., IP address, User Agent). Also, depending on browser configuration, iframes can be used to embed more powerful mechanisms from third-party servers.

Keep in mind that your User Agent is often quite unique, and with access to JavaScript and certain browser plug-ins (e.g., Flash, Java), web sites can obtain quite detailed information about your browsing environment - often enough to uniquely identify you across web sites and over time, even without cookies. See https://panopticlick.eff.org/ for a good example.

There are more extensive mechanisms for tracking, device fingerprinting, and (at least partially) de-anonymizing web site visitors. See http://33bits.org/2010/02/18/cookies-supercookies-and-ubercookies-stealing-the-identity-of-web-visitors/ for examples.

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1  
The basic history stealing mechanism has been fixed in most browsers, but if a page can get you to interact in certain ways, it is still possible to detect elements of your browsing history that are completely unrelated to the current site. See lcamtuf.blogspot.com/2013/05/… for a fun example. –  pseudon May 11 '13 at 21:00
    
Excellent answer. Thank you very much; I'll check into the information you provided. –  Juan Carlos Coto May 13 '13 at 17:58

HTTP Cookies are used to track your activites.

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Websites can track you using the following mechanisms:

  1. Storing of cookies on your browser and sending information back to the server on what you do.
  2. Analyzing of the access logs on specific IP addresses to see what pages you visit.
  3. Install third-party Javascript tools like Google Analytics that can also track you and provide even more details on every user.

Generally, you are tracked no matter how basic the site is. Take it as visiting someone's house, the footprints you leave will stay even if you quietly come in.

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Some developers also use Mixpanel to track your behavior and navigation on the site.

Mixpanel can be used to trigger events on some action by the user and then the data collected is used for analytics.

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