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Can websites know of users' identity

  1. Dec 5, 2017 #1
    Can some websites such as search engines know of our identity? Can they guess or learn our name, surname or personality characters etc? If so, is it better not to use them? Google is offering me results from websites which are used in searches i.e site: searches. This seems very strange to me.

    Thank you.
     
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  3. Dec 5, 2017 #2

    mathman

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    I believe they can identify your computer, but not you.
     
  4. Dec 5, 2017 #3

    QuantumQuest

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    Google search engine gets a huge number of anonymous requests everyday so what can easily get is IP's. Now, unless there is some case of online theft, hacking, terrorism or any other criminal case, what matters to google is what every user seeks for, regarding products and services, for both improving its own services but also for commercial purposes. Any company is interested in having an advertisement on some sites and this to be relevant to consumer needs. Now, in any case Google or other search engines - I refer to Google because you mention it but it is also the biggest one anyway, can easily find the personal identity of a user in various ways. To be spot-on, it can find the identity of a machine but it is not difficult to identify a physical person after that through an ISP (at least the person who has the contract with the ISP).

    Now, I don't want to state the obvious thing but if you have a Google account and log in, your searches are identified immediately regarding your personal identity. And for fake profiles there is always the IP way if the need arises:wink:
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2017
  5. Dec 5, 2017 #4

    Merlin3189

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    Just think about what you are doing. You are asking someone a question. If you get an answer, they have to give it to you. So, as people have said, the person you ask has to know where to send the answer.
    You can try to get around this by asking someone else to ask Google the question for you, then they can give you Google's answer. Such sites exist, for the benefit of people who trust those sites more than they trust Google. But still someone has to know where to send the result.

    Many, if not most, of us are forced to do this indirection at least once, because we do not have an IP address. We have to ask our ISP to send messages on our behalf, either then directly or via another proxy. The ISP could decide to let Google know who you are, but it won't because it has to observe data protection and privacy laws.

    Possibly Google's (or anybody else's) best chance of finding out about you is simply to ask! When you ask a question and they send the answer, they can also send you messages asking you for whatever info they want. Many (most?) people answer these questions freely. Fair exchange.
    Again, for servers in the same jurisdiction they are restrained in what they can legitimately ask, but cross jurisdictional border I don't know.
     
  6. Dec 5, 2017 #5

    phyzguy

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    Does it bother you that when you go into your bank or use your credit card at a store that the teller or cashier knows your name?
     
  7. Dec 5, 2017 #6

    jack action

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    The keyword 'site:' when entered in the Google search bar, only limits results from the domain you entered. For example, the search 'electricity site:physicsforums.com' will only return results from physicsforums.com about electricity. It works the same way on DuckDuckGo or Bing. The website has no control or influence over this (I'm not even sure it is aware that the user asked for that restriction).
     
  8. Dec 5, 2017 #7

    russ_watters

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    Oh, it's much worse than that. When you shop at a supermarket, beyond knowing who you are, they catalog, database and dissect everything you buy. They know what that ointment you are buying is for and how often you need a refill!

    [but at least they'll be sure to tell you when it's on sale!]
     
  9. Dec 6, 2017 #8
    If I was a lottery winner, this case, their knowing of my personal identity, would bother me a lot.

    Thank you.
     
  10. Dec 6, 2017 #9
    Something that can't be overlooked is modern day online user tracking and the power of big data. The sharing of information between sites is enourmous. Facebook shares with Google, Google shares with Walmart, Walmart shares with NYT etc etc. The analytics companies that lay in between probably know more about you than... you! :nb)
     
  11. Dec 6, 2017 #10
    If correctly understood, your reply is completely reverse of other replies because they claimed they cannot know me because it is not much important and unpractical. If they know somebody better than their own this is horrible and might be very dangerous. Someone of my friends do very strange searches in the search engines and search engines want them confirmation if they are human, not robot etc. Does this strange, complex and detailed searches make them more wonder about personal identities? Does what they do by knowing identies, collecting and sharing them comply with regulations of internet?

    Thank you.
     
  12. Dec 6, 2017 #11
    For the most part. It's still a very new area for law. Privacy is dead. It's the cost of many of these free-ish online services.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2017
  13. Dec 6, 2017 #12
    I have been using search engines for years and, if I correctly remember, only today they asked me to look at their privacy agreement. This is very strange. Just for wondering, would you mind if I ask PhysicsForums if they also have been sharing info in the way mentioned in #9?

    Thank you.
     
  14. Dec 6, 2017 #13

    Borg

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    At a minimum, your IP address is known by any site that you visit. Your internet service provider knows who is assigned that address and when. The government is required to get a court order to find out who has used a particular address. However, there isn't much to stop the provider from selling pieces of that information to other companies who can then buy different pieces from other sources and reassemble a decent picture about the person at that address.

    Also, think about how when you use Google maps on your phone and it knows exactly where you are - even when you aren't using it. Your home is probably where it spends its time at night and your office is where the phone is during the day. Just think what they can do with that information...

    Greg is 100% correct - privacy is dead.
     
  15. Dec 6, 2017 #14
    The answer is yes for the sole reason that we use Google Analytics. This is very powerful and comprehensive tool for webmasters to use to gain insights in who is using a site and how. It's free to use. The trade off is Google stores and uses your traffic data while browsing PF. It's no different than any other site you visit. It's not all that scary. In fact it gives PF crucial information that allows us to create and organize an environment that better suits our visitors. For example it tells us how many people visit PF using a mobile device or using what browser or coming from what country. These are important for us to know. On Google's end they use such data to better their services and yeah maybe sell it to other companies. It's just a reality you can't practically escape.
     
  16. Dec 6, 2017 #15
    Any app that has location service enabled. I once got a pizza hut ad on my phone mere seconds after walking past a pizza hut on the street. All this activity is being recorded, analyzed and packaged.
     
  17. Dec 6, 2017 #16
    I supposed we can escape from it very easily by some tips&tricks when using search engines or internet. What if we use a vpn software preventing to be in a different country other where we really in or if we fail deliberately in human tests, such as clicking on correct picture?

    Thank you.
     
  18. Dec 6, 2017 #17

    Borg

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    LOL, I don't have a cell but I can definitely picture that happening. One thing that most people don't realize it that the traffic feature on Google maps is compiled using data about how fast phones are moving. All they need is a constant stream of where every phone is.
     
  19. Dec 6, 2017 #18
    Sure there are ways to limit exposure, but there is a cost and that cost is the hassle you go through in trying to mask yourself. End of the day it's more work than it is worth.
     
  20. Dec 6, 2017 #19
    This is also very confusing. As I mentioned in my previous posts in this thread, I opened a thread and this tool, Google Analytics determined or instantly had this info and since the question is about privacy, probably from the IP adress they sent me their privacy agreement? This is too fast and very strange? Might it be an artificial intelligence? I heard they were very fast for operations in exchange market.

    Thank you.
     
  21. Dec 6, 2017 #20
    Google Analytics stores information that is sent from your computer by whatever browser you use. There is no agreement necessary. For cookies, technically sites are required to notify visitors that they are in use, but it's not widely done because it's something that is almost never enforced by authorities.
     
  22. Dec 6, 2017 #21

    phyzguy

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    I'm not sure what the issue is. If you go back a few hundred years, almost everyone lived in small communities. When you went out into the community to make a transaction, everyone knew who you were. There were no anonymous transactions. Why do we view anonymity as so important? There is lots of evidence that people do ugly things anonymously on the internet that they would never do if their identity were known. I think the internet would be a better place if every transaction could be traced back to an individual. Of course, there is the concern that your stuff can be stolen, but that's why we have laws and law enforcement. People can break into your house and steal your stuff, too.
     
  23. Dec 6, 2017 #22

    jack action

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    It has nothing to do with artificial intelligence or special tools that could guess your social security number or something like that.

    It has to do with YOU. What information YOU are deliberately sending to others. What information YOU are allowing to be saved and recuperated on your computer.

    Some of this information, you have to give it up, like your IP address. When you ask for a web page, you have to give it up such that the server knows where to send the web page in question. It's like if you order pizza from a restaurant, you have to give them your physical address if you want it to be delivered to your house.

    Some of it is automatically sent by your browser to inform the server what type of browser it is dealing with, such that it can give an appropriate response. Technically, you don't need to send those infos, but it might be difficult (impossible?) to stop popular browsers from doing it on your behalf. It is up to YOU to use a browser where you can control what is sent.

    Some of it is recorded on your computer because YOU allowed it to be recorded on your computer. If YOU allow websites using javascript on your computer, YOU open the door for websites that YOU communicate with to run programs that they designed. There are a lot of security features with javascript, but there are a lot of smart programmers too. YOU can turn javascript off (i.e disallow websites to use it). YOU can decline cookies or local storage (used by websites to store data on your machine). But maybe your browser will make this really difficult to achieve. It is still up to YOU to use a browser where you can control what it allows websites to do on your computer.

    If you turn everything off, you might find your experience on the web not as interesting, though. The thing is that those infos are meant to be use to enhance your experience; and most websites do use the info in that sense. The rest is mostly using it to do marketing research (like what do people buy, where do they go, etc.). In a privacy agreement, the website is declaring what it actually does with the info YOU sent them and what they store on your computer, if YOU allow them to do it.

    If someone wants to follow a particular person (like the police looking for a criminal on the run), one could technically use some of these techniques to do so. But you must be a person of interest for someone for this to happen. Are you that interesting? Most people aren't.

    To catch a glimpse at what infos YOU are sending to every website you visit, you can take a look at https://panopticlick.eff.org/.
     
  24. Dec 6, 2017 #23

    jtbell

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    In the Settings app of my iPhone, I can turn off Location Services completely in the Privacy section, or selectively enable it for specific apps.

    I can turn location sharing on/off in the settings for the Google Maps app. That app also give me an option to use it without being logged into any of my Google accounts.
     
  25. Dec 6, 2017 #24

    WWGD

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    AFAIK, the hits you get will depend on your previous searches, when using Google. It tracks your searches and adapts the results of your queries to these previous searches. Try it: ask 2-3 of your friends to search using the exact same string .
     
  26. Dec 6, 2017 #25

    WWGD

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    In some countries , parts of Europe I believe, the data generated by the customer is their property, not the market's to be mined for their profit.
     
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