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Is Tracking User Behavior with JavaScript Ethical?

Privacy is not something that I'm merely entitled to, it's an absolute prerequisite.

Marlon Brando

Have you ever thought about the amount of data that is being collected on you while you're browsing the internet? ever wondered how websites know what you're interested in and show you relevant ads? Well, it turns out that JavaScript plays a big role in tracking user behavior.

JavaScript is a programming language that allows websites to be more interactive and responsive. But it's not just used for making cool animations or pop-ups, it can also be used to track your behavior on a website. Everything from your clicks, scrolls, and even keystrokes can be tracked and analyzed by companies.

Source of the Most Common Trackers Found on the Top 50K Sites

According to research posted by Timothy Libert on the ReaserchGate website

Findings indicate that nearly 9 in 10 websites leak user data to parties of which the user is likely unaware; more than 6 in 10 websites spawn third- party cookies; and more than 8 in 10 websites load Javascript code from external parties onto users' computers.

Let's take a look a some few ways on how JavaScript is being used to track user behaviour on the web:

πŸ›‘ Event tracking: This is when a website uses JavaScript to track specific actions that you take on the website. For example, if you click on a button or scroll to a certain point on the page, the website can record that information.

πŸ›‘ Session tracking: This is when a website uses JavaScript to keep track of how long you spend on the website and which pages you visit.

πŸ›‘ A/B testing: This is when a website shows different versions of a website to different users and then uses the data to see which version is more popular or leads to more conversions.

πŸ›‘ User-Agent tracking: This is a string that identifies the browser and version of the browser that is accessing the website. Website can track the user-agent of the user and can use this information to detect the browser and device of the user. This information can be used to deliver the browser-specific content or to show the browser-specific pop-up.

Have you ever seen a website with a Heat Map? This is when a website uses JavaScript to track where you click on the website. Based on this information, the website can create a map that shows which parts of the website are being clicked on the most.

All this tracking might help the website improve their user experience.

However, a lot of these companies are not fully transparent to their users on how they track their user's behaviour.
🚨 Tracking without consent: Some companies may use JavaScript to track user behavior without obtaining the user's consent.

🚨 Misrepresentation of data collection: Some companies may collect and use data for purposes other than what they have stated in their privacy policy.

🚨 Selling user data: Some sell their users data to third parties without obtaining the user's consent.

🚨 Not providing an opt-out mechanism: Some companies deliberately choose not to provide users with an easy way to opt-out of tracking.

🚨 Not providing clear and conspicuous notice: Some companies may not provide clear notice on the data collection, use, and sharing of the user data.

A lot of these companies also track their users while offline as well, collecting data and information even while the user is away from their site, here are a few ways in which this is done:

🌐 Device Fingerprinting: This is a technique used to track users by collecting information about the user's device, such as the browser version, screen resolution, installed fonts, and more.
🌐browser cookies
🌐browser cache
🌐 browser history
🌐 browser form data

This is why it is always advised to clear your browser cache and history regularly, and disable cookies on your browser.

Now, this raises an important question: is it ethical for companies to track our behavior without our knowledge or consent? Some argue that tracking user behavior is necessary for companies to improve their products and services. They might say that tracking behavior helps them to understand how people interact with their website, and as a result, they can make it more user-friendly. On the other hand, others might argue that tracking user behavior without consent is a violation of our privacy and goes against our basic human rights.

Personally, I believe that companies should be transparent about their data collection practices, and users should have the option to opt-out of behavior tracking if they choose. And, the best way is to give the users the right to control their data and how it is used. It should be their choice, not the company's.

What's your opinion on this topic? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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