How Links You Share Can Track You & Your Readers Online

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

If safeguarding your privacy is important to you, you are aware of tracking and avoid it whenever possible. After all, where you go on the internet, what you read, what you buy, is nobody’s business but your own.

But it’s likely you have other interests as well, and you also share links about your interests over different social platforms, like Twitter. That’s great. But are you inadvertently broadcasting data that can be used to track you without realizing it? Probably so.

Forehead Slaps All Around

If you read my post about Larry Tesler (the inventor of copy-and-paste, in addition to so many other functions we take for granted), you’ll see a link:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/larry-tesler-inventor-of-copy-and-paste-computer-functions-dies-at-74/2020/02/20/e5699f6e-541c-11ea-9e47-59804be1dcfb_story.html

Did you realize it was an edited link? I saw the news of Larry Tesler’s passing on Twitter with a link to the obituary in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/larry-tesler-inventor-of-copy-and-paste-computer-functions-dies-at-74/2020/02/20/e5699f6e-541c-11ea-9e47-59804be1dcfb_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter

See the ?utm? That’s a tracking parameter. When you (or your readers) click on the link, data is collected and the user is tracked across the web. Their digital footprint grows as their privacy shrinks.

If you are serious about privacy, then, in most cases, be a good citizen and remove the tracking parameter when sharing links, like I did in this example. Why only in “most cases”? Because in some cases the tracking parameter will allow your readers to bypass a paywall. A great example? The Medium Friend Link, which will allow your readers who are not Medium subscribers to access your story, even if they have burned through their allotment of complimentary articles for the month.

If there isn’t a benefit to a link with the tracking parameter — like the paywall bypass — the edited link will take you and the people with whom you share the link to the exact same place as the link without it. The author of the page or post will still get the benefit of your presence in their stats. The difference? They don’t get to track you or the people with whom you share the link across cyberspace, which they shouldn’t be doing anyway. You get your information while preserving your (and your readers’) privacy.

The upshot? If there is no benefit to the tracking parameter (like bypassing a paywall), backspace from the end of the link up to and including the ?utm, and regain a bit of your privacy.

Learn More and Keep in Touch

Thanks for reading this article! Leave a comment below if you have any questions or comments. To learn more about cybersecurity issues affecting your business keep current on the latest threats and solutions, all in plain English, be sure to sign up for the DCC Cyberscoop newsletter.

About the Author

Kelly Byram, MS, MBA, ELS, is CEO of Duke City Consulting. She leads the firm’s Cyber Group and the Scientific and Medical Communications Group, helping startups and other R & D enterprises develop, protect, and fund their intellectual property.

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