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I Know Where You Went Today…

Did the search engine really notice when I browsed that website? You know, that one. For the vast majority of users, the answer is a qualified yes. Generally, online services use two methods to identify users: cookies and Internet Protocol (IP) address. Cookies can track what you do online, while IP addresses can reveal where and who you are. 

Cookies are snippets of non-executable code, more like a watermark or a token than an application, handed to the browser by a website or an advertisement within the site. The browser stores the cookies and can send them back to remote servers. For example, the online ad company ABC uses cookies served by its ads on various sites to track which ads you click on. The company then builds a user profile so it can target ads that can individual user might want to see.

One can deal with cookies from within a Web browser relatively easily. Most browsers offer a setting under the Preferences or Options menu items to control which cookies it will accept, or whether it should ask your permission before accepting them. In addition, most browsers allow you to delete cookies.

More telling, and more difficult to mask, is your IP address. Every computer on the Internet has an IP address, much like ever phone has a number. Google and other search engines note IP address of each user, which can then be used to locate which Internet service provider (ISP) the user is on. Theoretically, a private company or government can then request then request the user's personal information form the ISP


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