• 11.22.16

Here’s What Websites Know About You, Just From The Way You Browse

It’s more than you think.

Here’s What Websites Know About You, Just From The Way You Browse

You probably know that the websites you visit–even this one–track your behaviors in some capacity. Maybe you think it knows your browser, your computer type, your connection speed, maybe even your computer type. But webpages can track far more than that. In fact, they can analyze your behavior so well that even with no other information at all, they can tell it’s you visiting a site, not anyone else.

advertisement is a sardonically narrated website that transparently exposes all the ways in which a website can track you based upon your behavior, created by Luna Maurer & Roel Wouters of Studio Moniker. The user-facing site itself basically just a big green button and a terminal telling you what the server is “seeing” as you browse the site. But it turns out that the server can see almost everything: How you move your mouse, what you click on, how quickly you click on it, when you browse away, when you come back, and many more things besides.

But the way can extrapolate these seemingly mundane details into nearly psychically accurate user profiles is what really amazes… and horrifies. For example, based upon the way she moved her mouse, was able to guess my colleague’s gender accurately. It can also predict things like age range, computer literacy, probable income and educational level, and more, just by the way you browse the site. When draws a new conclusion about you, it ruminates on it aloud in an amusing German voice.

Are these conclusion 100% accurate? No, but they’re strong guesses informed by the behaviors of billions of users across trillions of sessions. In fact, by building a profile of a user’s unique web-browsing tics, it’s possible for entities like advertising networks to track users across multiple websites–for example, to determine that you’re a woman living in New York in your late fifties who likes puppies and is looking for a new car. And from there, it can serve you up the perfect ad.

Sound implausible? It isn’t. At least in part, this is how companies like Amazon and Facebook seem to offer you up the perfectly relevant product or ad at any given time, even when you’ve never searched their sites for what they’re offering. So if it scares you that can correctly guess so much about you, how much more terrifying is it when sites that already know so much more about you start tracking you this way?

According to Wouters–who also gave its delightfully wry voice–raising awareness of the way companies can track people across the web was the reason Studio Moniker created the site in the first place. “We are fascinated by the ease with which people allow a few big companies to monetize our digital behavior, as well as the endless possibilities that creates,” he says. “We hope that our visitors start thinking about that as well.”

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