How Web Bugs Can Compromise Your Privacy

Any hidden web page object that is used to track visitors without being clearly visible is known as a web bug. They are invisible in order to covertly track a web visitor. If the object was visible, it would get in the way of the page, make visitors suspicious and probably be blocked. Scripts, iframes, images and other objects are used to create web bugs. The images and objects used generally don’t have any borders and are transparent though sometimes they merely blend into the background. The elements of web bugs are downsized to such a degree that the human eye simply cannot see them.


In addition, their tiny size means that their transfer rates will be all but unnoticeable. Visitors are tracked using cookies, IP addresses, header information and much more. Although web bugs may only track the visitor’s current page, there are bugs capable of going through the whole browsing history of an individual. You should not confuse web bugs with the software kind which describes an error, these bugs are deliberately created in order to track visitors.


Why Are Web Bugs Used?

As you might suspect, the whole point of creating web bugs is to improve the level of information garnered from online users for marketing purposes. Proponents of web bugs will say that they are there for a person’s convenience. However, they rightly cause privacy concerns because they aren’t easy to detect which means people can’t opt out. The only real plus point in relation to web bugs is the fact that they can collect useful consumer information and aid in online advertising.


Web Bug Invasion

Unfortunately, web bugs are blatantly misused by those who champion them. The biggest concern is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a specific limit on the number of different web bugs allowed on any one site. It is also the case where the information is illegally sold. Spam marketers use web bugs to find out if their spam mail is being received. If it is, they know that their emails are bypassing spam filters. Hidden objects are often linked with phishing sites, malware, viruses and other issues that affect your security.


It is also important to note that web bugs are hardly ever mentioned in the privacy policies of websites and are effectively a loophole. The next time you read through a privacy policy, look out for the statement which says that data will not be shared with a third party. When it comes to web bugs, the site isn’t sharing your data because your browser is what sends out the data unintentionally.


Web Bug Repellent

One of the best ways to repel these web bugs is by immediately disabling third party cookies. This simple action could remove 50% of the threat posed by web bugs. If you decide to only accept the cookies you absolutely need, your exposure to web bugs is reduced even further. Every single major web browser allows you to do this and some email accounts do as well. Clearing out your browser history, cookies and cache regularly is also a wise move. Emails that have been marked as junk or spam have received these labels for a reason so don’t open them.


If your email is not well protected, switching to a more secure provider is a good idea. There are also some free web browser add-ons available that can keep web bugs at bay including Beef Taco, Privacy Mark, Ghostery and many more. There are also add-ons such as NoScript, BetterPrivacy and Karma Blocker. While these don’t specialise in protecting you from web bugs, they do provide a certain level of protection.


Web bugs may prove useful to marketers in a bid to track information and provide a certain amount of convenience for online shoppers. However, this doesn’t really justify their existence because they are ultimately an invasion of privacy. We all read and post things that are private to us and the last thing we want is a group of strangers tracking and sharing our surfing history. Web bugs could cause advertisements to pop-up relating to what you were looking at earlier. This could cause a degree of embarrassment depending on what you were searching for and who is looking over your shoulder at the time. The bottom line is: We deserve online privacy and web bugs take that away from us.


About the Author - This article is written by Sara Carter who writes on behalf of