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What data is collected on the internet?

What data is collected on the internet

When we use an online service “free of charge”, we usually pay for it with our data. Image: Unsplash

To the entire dossier “Traces of data on the Internet”.
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Two types of data
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A basic distinction is made between two types of data:

  • Content data , e.g. B. Text and attachments of an email, and
  • Metadata – in this case e.g. B. Sender, recipient, subject, date and time, email program used and language used. Photos also contain a lot of metadata: The so-called EXIF data provide information about when, where and with which camera a picture was taken – but they can be removed quite easily.

The most important data sources in the digital world

    • Profiles in social networks: This is where the lion’s share of personal data comes together – in addition to postings and uploaded images, there is also information about the emotional state, relationships, political attitudes, liked pages or groups, etc. But information about the devices or networks used is also collected . In its data policy,Facebook breaks down in detail what information is collected about users.
    • Visited websites and online shops: The date, time, IP address, approximate location of the Internet connection, operating system used, browser type, language and version of the browser software and the website from which the access came (e.g. search engine) are recorded as standard. In some cases, much more precise data is “logged”, such as how far the website was scrolled down or which links were clicked.

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  • Digital communication: Regardless of whether we send e-mails, SMS or messages via WhatsApp or in Facebook Messenger – we at least track who communicates when and with whom (metadata). The contents themselves are z. B. encrypted on WhatsApp – but not in all messengers.
  • Search engines: The search engine giant Google not only knows which questions people are burning under their nails, but also knows many more details from users with a Google account, e.g. B. Frequently visited locations or the favorite videos on YouTube.

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Make your own data visible

Special tools make it clear which data is being collected about one’s own online activities. These include B. ClickClickClick.Click ,  or Lightbeam . The “My Activity” page of Google lists all interactions and activities; In the Google Maps Timeline , anyone can look up where he or she has been in the last few years. This data can be deleted again or further data collection deactivated in the activity settings.

  • Out and about with a smartphone: Anyone who walks through the city with a mobile phone permanently leaves traces of data behind. Smartphones are constantly trying to connect, for example to WiFi networks or to other devices via Bluetooth. If the location is activated, a detailed movement profile is created during the day.
  • Apps: The small programs are real data vacuum cleaners and often require more access rights than necessary, e.g. B. on the location data, browser history, device ID, contacts in the address book or mobile phone camera.
  • Paying: Even if we use credit cards, debit cards or customer cards to pay, a lot of information is generated that provides information about our purchasing behavior and our solvency.
  • Internet of Things (IoT): Household appliances, heating systems or electricity meters (“Smart Home”) are increasingly networked with one another or connected to the Internet. A prime example here are digital assistants such as Alexa from Amazon or Home from Google. More and more children’s toys (“smart toys”) can also be operated via an app – and collect a lot of usage data. So-called “wearables” – smart wristwatches, step counters or fitness trackers are also a gold mine for data collectors . Networked vehicles also generate large amounts of data.
  • Biometric data: Techniques such as fingerprints, iris scans or face recognition are being used more and more to “simply” unlock devices. Unlike a password, biometric data cannot be changed in the event of theft and is therefore particularly sensitive.

How does the data collection work?

Most websites are based on third-party tracking tools that collect our data – mostly unnoticed: which pages we visit, where we click, how long we stay on a page, which page we visited before. The IP address – i.e. the clearly assignable address of your own device – is also usually tracked. Technically, there are several ways to do this, such as:

  • Setting cookies : small files are stored on the computer via the browser when you visit a website for the first time and then collect information;
  • Web pixels : tiny, invisible graphics are placed on a website by advertising companies and forward a lot of personal data;
  • Device fingerprinting : users can be recognized based on their browser settings (language, version, time zone, etc.);
  • Analysis tools : website operators can use tools such as B. Learn more about Google Analyticsabout your visitors;
  • “Like” buttons & Co .: Also who z. For example, if you click on the “Like” button on Facebook or the Twitter bird under a newspaper article, it will be tracked.


Most of the personal information users give away completely voluntarily – in social networks!
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