I’ve written a lot about how Google ranks websites and uses domain age in their page rankings, and how the future may include profiling in generating your search engine results, and a lot of other articles and resources about search engines and page ranking, so I was fascinated by an article in PC Magazine by John C. Dvorak called “Knowing Too Much” about what information is known or available when you visit a blog or website.
By now you know that when you surf the Net, you leave a trail of electronic breadcrumbs a mile wide. But you may not know that statistical-analysis software collects these breadcrumbs and lets site owners carefully analyze their traffic to see what you’re looking at, where you’re coming from, what browser you’re using, and the last site you visited. Many of the analysis packages come an inch from actually identifying site visitors by name.
Dvorak goes on to explain that while they might or might not actually know your name, though they do if you are a “registered member” and your Internet cookies are still active, there is still a lot of information they can gain from you and your browser when you visit a website or blog.
Here are a few examples of some of the information which can be gathered from a visitor to your site.
- IP address
- Geographical location
- Computer OS and type
- Browser type and version
- Method of access (DSL, cable, phone modem, etc.)
- Which pages you visited
- When you visited
- How long you spent on each page during your visit
- When you exited
- What pages you entered and exited on
- Search keywords you used on the site
- Search keywords that brought you to the site
- Where you came from to get to your site (Referer)
- Where you went when you left the site
While some of this information is critical to the success of the website, helping the web master or administrator know which are the most popular pages, how long people spend on the site (aka stickyness), and the computer and browser type to help ensure the website design works for these popular browsers. These are important bits of information.
Dvorak is talking about how profile information can be gathered and used, like I discussed in the article on Google seeking patents on profiling for their search results. If Google gets their way, this profile information can be stored in a database with info on not only where you live but your shopping and searching habits to ensure you get the information you “need” from the search engine.
There is a lot of debate about Big Brother watching and privacy, and whether or not this kind of personal service is helpful to Internet users, but it is still information you need to know. It’s important to know what information you are giving to others when you visit a site. Most of the above list is harmless information, but if the trend continues with profiling, a whole lot of people could know a whole lot about you, and you need to know what they know about you.