According to a recent study published by experts from KU Leuven, Radboud University, and the University of Lausanne, users’ email addresses are given to tracking, marketing, and analytics domains by web trackers before such information is given permission to be used or submitted by the person.
Before understanding how this information may be used, let’s first discuss what is web tracking. Web tracking is the gathering and sharing of data about an individual’s online activities. This data can range from IP addresses, which establish your location, to information about how you engage with websites, such as how long you spend on each page, to activity across multiple websites, which allows trackers to learn about your interests and purchasing habits.
Web tracking is made possible with the use of what is known as cookies. Cookies are small pieces of data that websites store on your device.
The study examined 2.8 million pages from the top 100 websites and discovered that in the European Union, 1,844 websites permitted trackers to acquire email addresses before form submission. In the United States, the numbers were even higher, with 2,950 from the set of websites examined permitting trackers access to email addresses before consent.
Furthermore, it was discovered that 52 websites were collecting passwords in the same way, an issue that has subsequently been resolved as a result of assertive action on the part of some companies.
Some of the top third-party tracker domains to which email addresses have been transmitted too are Adobe, Verizon, Meta Platforms, TikTok, and Oracle, while Yandex, Mixpanel, and LogRocket top the list in the password-grabbing category.
Companies want information from those who are on their sites, such as email addresses because they offer them valuable information. They allow third parties to follow users across devices, but they may also be used to link their online and offline behaviors.
The concept of harvesting email addresses given in online forms, even if the users do not submit the form, has been encouraged by browser vendors which are companies that own browser sites. And there are continual attempts to remove support for third-party cookies which comes from another website other than the one the user is currently on, and is used by advertisers to monitor user activity. This is now pushing marketers to hunt for alternative measures to follow users.
But this can be seen as a breach of privacy for many citizens as the web trackers are tracking them with their email addresses before they allow the forms to be submitted.
The huge amount of personal information that these websites acquire is one of the most common complaints about web tracking. Many people are uneasy with the idea of their name, birthday, and interests being shared with strangers. Furthermore, data leaks pose a risk of exposing one’s personal information to criminals and hackers. Others are concerned that people would develop negative spending habits as a result of tailored ads because they are continuously shown things they might wish to buy.
Solutions to help web tracking
With the exception of Google Chrome, browser makers have added additional mechanisms to curb cross-site cookies in recent years, but Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox have been shown to do nothing to safeguard against scripts that export email addresses for tracking purposes.
Installing browser extensions such as uBlock Origin or switching to browsers with built-in ad blocking features, regardless of the type of device used, is one way to combat this tracking practice.