Site Established:
Year 2000

Start In Business
Bookmark and Share
 The other side!
User Information.

Dec 2001

An Eye-Opener!

Don't Panic!

This is just a short article which aims to increase internet users' awareness of the level of information that can be revealed by your Internet Browser (e.g Netscape or internet Explorer) to website owners.

If, like most people, you don't care too much about how the Interent works, you may still find the information in this article a bit surprising.

We do not intend to worry you, just inform you! In fact, we might even convince you that there are many benefits to passing certain 'non-personal' information to the web sites that you visit.

What happens when you visit a web page?

Whenever you visit a web page, your computer uses a web address to find and download some files (text, images, sounds etc.) from another computer, (a server). It then peices these files together, and presents the resulting page using a browser on your computer.

So, for each page that you view on the internet:
(i) Your browser asks for a web page by sending a 'message' to the server.
(ii) The server responds to your request, and sends a web page back to you.

What information is passed to the server?

The message that your computer sends to the server contains quite alot of information, some of it is 'vitally important', the rest is 'useful'. None of it is personal!

Vitally Important Information
Information that MUST be sent in order for you to view the web page properly.
For example, your browser MUST send the 'actual web address' of the web page that you want to view, otherwise the server won't be able to work out which page to send back. (see below)

Useful Information
Information that may be useful to the server in order to make sure the page is customized to suit you.
For example, your browser includes some information about itself within the message to the server - what version is it, is it Netscape, Internet Explorer, AOL or another make, what type of files can it cope with etc. (see below)

What could we know about YOU?

The web address of the page that you wanted to view

The type of Internet browser that you are using at present
Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1; .NET CLR 1.1.4322)
Often shows the operating system too (e.g Windows)

The spoken-language that you understand.
e.g en-gb
Although it is not particularly accurate, this information may enable a webmaster to make assumptions about your nationality, and perhaps location. For example if your computer was set to read text as 'Chinese', they may assume that you might be Chinese, or living in China and customize the resulting web page to suit.

The address of your computer (an IP address).
Not a real address, of course, but a series of numbers which point to your computer.
Most webmasters can pick up this information, but it is unlikely that they will be able to determine any more from it than the name of the company that you use to connect to the internet with (an ISP) - e.g AOL, Freeserve, NTL etc.

If you have been naughty and seriously broken the law, however, your ISP may be required to trace the IP address to your telephone and pass on any information that they hold about you to the appropriate authorities.

A friend of mine, whose website was under attack from a hacker, used the IP address, in combination with information on the time of the hack attempt, to get a CCTV picture of the hacker at work! The culprit was a first year student sitting in a University computer room. Big Brother and all that!

Your IP address is mostly used for far less devious purposes - they help web site owners to count the number visitors that use their online services.

We know that thousands of people visit our website each day - we only know this because we can count the number of unique IP addresses that are used to send requests to our site. In fact, we only know that 'thousands of computers' visit us each day, but we assume that the majority of these computers are being used by people.

The 'refering' web page that sent you to this page!
If you click on a link on a web page to visit a brand new page, your browser often remembers the address of the refering page and passes this address to the new page - even if the two pages are on two different websites.

This helps website owners to find out which 'buddy' websites are sending them the most people. We know that the Channel 4 web site refers an awful lot of people to us, because our records show that many of our visitors where looking at a page on their server just before visiting us.

Likewise, we can tell which 'search engines' send us the most visitors. Even better still, because many search engines carry the search phrase (that was typed in by the user) in their web addresses, we can tell what our visitors were searching for when they found our website.

So why should we care?

We hope to have helped you understand a little bit more about how the internet works, and perhaps allowed you to see what a web page looks like from the other side!

As you have discovered, none of your 'personal information' is sent off around the world willy-nilly by your browser. However, the next time you use a search engine to find "ways to spend my vast redundency pay-out'', be aware that this information is potentially available to every website that you click on!

View our privacy policy


'Start in Business' Best Sellers :

The Beermat Entrepreneur : Advice on Turning a Good Idea into a Great Business.
How to Make Millions With Your Ideas : An Entrepreneur's Guide.
Richard Branson : The Authorised Biography
Motley Fool : Make your Child a Millionaire.
Hackers and Painters : What impact will programmers have on the rest of us?

Legal Document Templates :
Trading : Debtors & Creditors, Contracts & Letters etc.
Corporate : Corporate Docs & Forms, Company Admin, Companies House Forms
Employment : Recruitment, Staff Management, Discipline & Dismissal
Health & Safety : Health & Safety Statements, H & S Forms

Retailer's and Trader's Resources :

UK Wholesale Directory + Product Database :
SimplyWholesale : Find suppliers & view live wholesale offers.

Wholesale Directory - List of Suppliers :
UK-Trader's Wholesale Guide : Used by thousands of traders. Instant download.

Business Software :
Business Plan Software : Generate a solid business plan.

Gadgets / Future :
Electronic Product Code ( EPC ) Network : Research into the future of products
Buying Gadgets : The first Bluetooth products on the market.
Making Gadgets : Programming wireless devices with Java 2 ME.

Fun Stuff / Entertainment :
Ghana Soundz, Music : Probably the best music you will ever hear
The Office, TV Series : Useful when training your staff!
Need a Better Office Ambiance? : Sound like a call centre on the telephone!

last modified: 15-Dec-2001