Few technologies cause more debate and consternation than those that track the activities of computer users. On the one hand, there are many legitimate reasons for user tracking such as compliance, performance analysis, troubleshooting, and policy enforcement. On the other hand, users see tracking as an invasion of privacy—Big Brother looking over their shoulder. To make matters worse, a large degree of confusion
and misunderstanding exists about the nature and capabilities of the many different user-tracking technologies.
Many organizations have an internal need for user tracking. In many countries, companies have the right to monitor workplace activities. Compliance laws may even require the auditing of employee activities. Scores of software systems are available for tracking and controlling computer tasks such as web browsing and email. The software can be used to identify employees who are misusing company resources or
spending too much time on personal activities.
A large number of organizations also track the activities of their customers. This can help to better predict
and control inventory, improve service, and allow targeted marketing. In the physical world, credit cards and frequent shopper cards can link purchase histories with customer
names and addresses. In the digital world, far more information can be gathered. It’s even possible to
get detailed information about potential customers, even if they never make a purchase!
Digital user tracking took an age-old marketing concept and
made it available to businesses at light speed. No longer are mail-in and phone surveys needed, (not that phone solicitations have subsided). Instead, customer’s choices
can be “watched” as they are made. Even better, some of the technology needed is essentially built into the process of web browsing.
This chapter focuses on the two most common digital user tracking technologies: cookies and spyware. Both are tools that can be employed by organizations to collect information about Internet and computer usage. Organizations that collect the data can analyze it for their greater purpose, which is usually determining what customers want.
The above information is the start of a chapter in "Network Security Illustrated," published by McGraw-Hill and available from amazon.com, as well as your local bookstore. The book goes into much greater depth on this topic. To learn more about the book and what it covers, click here.
Below, you'll find links to online resources that supplement this portion of the book.