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Tracking Website Visitors without Breaking Any Laws

Updated: May 12, 2023

Tracking Website Visitors without Breaking Any Laws

Like most other websites, yours might have audience-tracking capabilities to gauge user activity. That data is vital as it helps improve the visitor experience. After all, 96% of customers say they will remain loyal to a brand that provides excellent customer service.  

The problem is part of the data you’ll collect is personal information, and there are data privacy laws protecting personal data usage, collection, and storage.

That may seem straightforward—create a privacy policy in compliance with the law, but there’s a catch. 

There are five states with privacy laws as of August 2022, and others are in the pipeline. While they do share similar provisions, they are not identical.

To compound matters, 137 out of the 194 countries have enacted data privacy laws, while Europe has the GDPR. That calls for creating a website that complies with all the data privacy laws relevant to visitors, wherever they may be. 

Tracking an audience in such an environment without expert help is the legal equivalent of walking in a minefield. Here’s a detailed assessment of data privacy laws, audience tracking, data, and compliance regulations, that will help you track website visitors without breaking any laws. 

What is website tracking? 

You would typically conduct website audience tracking to collect the user’s activity data on either your website or app. The goal is to get detailed insights into users’ needs and how they interact or engage with your app or website. 

Audience tracking provides a wealth of in-depth data your marketing team can use to refine the user experience (UX). Here’s how these benefits both the user and website owner: 

  1. Remember the user’s login details and preferences (such as language and font size) as they navigate your website or shift to the app. 

  2. Understand what pages or products the website visitor likes the most, so you can suggest relevant content or products that could prove useful. 

  3. Remember what they saved in the cart as they hop from one webpage to another. 

How does website tracking work? 

The most prevalent way of accomplishing this is using cookies, tagging, local storage, IP tracking, and pixels. Your website will store cookies and other website trackers in the user’s browser to establish the user’s identity, device, browser data, IP address, and location. 

That will allow you to track the user across devices and browsers to understand their needs and preferences better. When you use audience tracking software, it may also activate third-party cookies.  

It’s vital to note that cookies collect personal data, which the data privacy laws protect, so you must calibrate your website to comply with those laws.

Thankfully, innovative ways of identifying website visitors, such as cookieless advertising environment, are cropping up to make it easier to adhere to the data privacy laws. 

Technologies used by websites to track visitors  

Cookies are the most widespread method of audience tracking. They generate a unique user ID, helping the server remember them.

The most commonly used are first-party and third-party cookies. Configure your consent management platform to release cookies only when you obtain user consent. 

Digital fingerprinting only collect data that does not have a person’s identity, such as device type and IP address, and uses this to build a user profile and identify the visitor. 

Web beacons can track users through the server. Google uses tags, while most social media platforms use pixels, although they work similarly.

The pixel is a small, transparent graphic that fits the screen’s pixel, so the pixel’s code will send the user’s actions and other information back to the server. That enables advertisers to recognize users when they visit multiple sites using the same pixel. 

Whichever audience tracking method you select, ensure it complies with the relevant data privacy laws applicable to that visitor. 

How to comply with legal requirements for website tracking 

First off, familiarize yourself with the relevant laws. Since there are so many, your best bet is to use a consent management platform to keep up with new laws or amendments. The platform manages the obtaining of users’ consent to process their data legally. 

Ensure you include a privacy policy that complies with the data privacy laws of the visitor’s country or state. The privacy policy should clearly articulate how you will handle the user’s data.  

To be on the safe side, create a standalone terms & conditions page, although some jurisdictions (states and countries) don’t have this as a requirement. It should contain all the rights of the user. 

Inform users in non-ambiguous terms that you are tracking them in compliance with the applicable law. For instance, you can only track a European user if you ask and obtain their express consent.  

As for California residents, the data privacy laws dictate that you must inform them of the data you will collect, the purpose of collecting it, and whom you’ll share the data with, as well as provide a way for them to refuse the tracking altogether. 

You can save millions of dollars in fines with the help of Adzapier Consent Management Platform and comply with not only the EU’s GDPR but also California CCPA/CPRA and all other global data privacy laws around the world.  

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