After reading some delusional dribble of some people on a different website; and seeing how completely uninformed and ignorant they are about how websites and the Internet in general works, I decided to share some facts and provide some transparency into what and how much data is being captured by any given website on the Internet.
Note: I am speaking in general, what I say here applies to 99% of all websites and forums on the Internet. Not just this one.
Some people seem to think that there is some level of anonymity and privacy online. There is, sort of, but not how they imagine it.
Regardless of the forum or website that you are on, unless you are taking some very specific steps to hide yourself there are certain bits of data that are always being recorded.
PSA for the paranoid brigade: get off your paranoid donkey, this data is not recorded to track you or snoop on you. For the paranoid lurkers – you are insignificant and nobody cares about you, but in a good way.
However! This data is needed for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons are:
- Troubleshooting website and network faults. Who can and can’t connect and from where. How fast, how slow, etc. That’s right, this shit is not magic and takes effort.
- Cost reduction. Running websites costs money. Not in a sense of time is money. No, I mean real money… Understanding user activity on a website helps with resource planning and allows us to be most cost efficient.
- Keep you secure and troll free. We track (automatically, we personally don’t actually look at anything) user behaviour and can tell a single person using multiple accounts.
- Keep your data secure and mess free. Websites/forums require you to login in order to post messages. That way a user can be silenced (think of it as a temporary ban) or completely banned based on some user identifiers. It happens if they post abusive, offensive, threatening or spam content.
- Keep you interested and engaged. We see what articles you looked at (again, automated, we don’t actually see individuals, just numbers) and can plan good and interesting content. However, capability to look at an individual is certainly there, it just takes more effort and without a very good reason, nobody bothers.
There are lots and lots of reasons why this data is needed. None of them involve any specific individual and is generally viewed as a statistic, rather than on individual level.
This is no different to walking around a building with CCTV cameras. You specifically are not being watched, but the capacity to track your individual movements is certainly there.
There are also controls to make sure all moderators/admins can see what other moderators/admins are doing. If someone investigates user profile, other moderators can see that activity and inquire why this is happening. Snooping is not nice and we play by those rules. Most older forums don’t have this feature, however ours does. And this is why we have a few moderators and admins, to discourage this type of behaviour.
Most older forums don’t allow auditing. For example, if an admin snoops on users’ private messages, how would that be tracked? Who questions the admins? Ours does. If someone snoops, other admins will see that.
Now, what is this data that you speak of? This is not forum specific. This data is recorded by most websites and certainly all forums.
- Your internet address. A lot like your home address, but on the Internet. This is done by default by all web servers for all websites. This is done for all users, regardless if you are a registered forum member or not.
- Your web browser and operating system type, make, version. This is done by default by all web servers for all websites. This is done for all users, regardless if you are a registered forum member or not.
- Pages and posts that you have clicked on. This is done by all web servers and websites. This is done for all users, regardless if you are a registered forum member or not.
- Private messages – if you are a registered user and you send private messages via a website to other users, then admins (any admin on any website) can covertly see your private messages. However, on our forum this action is recorded and can be called out.
- Your email address. Again, if you are a registered user, then admins can see your (otherwise protected and hidden) email address. This is done and it’s done for content protection. Usually someone will make a quick verification inspection (i.e. look at email and see if it’s dodgy) of an email address, to make sure that an email address does not belong to common ‘throw away email’ spam providers.
Long story short, if you visit a website, regardless of what it is – this data is automatically recorded. If you register on a website or a forum, then your email address and private messaging data is also available to administrators. Don’t think for a moment that this is somehow private and hidden from any website owner. Most certainly from other users, but not from moderators and administrators.
Hope this clears things up and adds some transparency.