This website obtains information about its visitors in two ways;
- Visitor logs;
- Google Analytics.
The server on which this website’s files are stored, like almost all web servers, is set up to keep records of visitors’ internet protocol addresses and the domain names of any websites which refer visitors to this site. This information cannot identify individual visitors personally, and is not made available to any third parties.
Google places a small number of cookies on the computer of anyone who visits this website. The cookies, which are entirely harmless text files, allow Google to trace each visitor’s progress from page to page within the website. Google is also able to discover information about each visitor’s computer: the operating system, web browser, screen resolution, and much more. None of this information identifies the visitor personally.
Benefits of Google Analytics for Website Owners
Google Analytics allows a website’s administrator to discover a great deal of information about how the website is used, such as: which pages are the most popular, which search queries send visitors to the website, and which geographical areas visitors come from. Google Analytics is a useful tool for anyone who wants to improve a website’s performance.
Google Analytics and the EU Cookie Directive
The much–ridiculed and minimally observed EU Cookie Directive requires that visitors to a UK–based website be informed of the cookies used by that website. At the time of writing, Google Analytics attempts to send five cookies to a visitor’s computer:
- _utmb and _utmc: these cookies expire when you close your browser, or after 30 minutes, whichever comes first.
- _utmz: this cookie expires after six months.
- _utma and _utmv: these cookies stay on your computer until you delete them.
Why You May Want to Protect Your Privacy
No personal privacy problems can arise from one anonymous visit to one website. Google Analytics cookies, however, are installed on a very large number of websites. They allow Google, but not each website’s administrator, to assemble a record of an individual computer user’s journey from website to website.
If that computer user has an account with Google or any of its subsidiary companies, and if the account is in the user’s real name, Google will be able to attach that user’s personal details to the record of website visits, and build a profile of that person’s interests and online activities. Other companies do the same thing; at the time of writing, Facebook is perhaps the worst example.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Privacy
If you prefer to limit the amount of your personal information that is owned by unaccountable organisations, you have several options. In decreasing order of severity:
- Disguise your internet protocol address by using a secure virtual private network. For most people, this course of action is excessive and unnecessary. Unless you are genuinely being tracked by one or another secret police organisation, the benefits of using a VPN for general web browsing are negligible.
- Clear your cookies regularly by using the controls at the top of your browser window. This method prevents Google assembling a detailed profile of your web activity, but does not disable Google Analytics, and allows website administrators access to useful information.
If you are concerned about your privacy when online, see the Electronic Freedom Foundation website, which contains useful advice.