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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.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 5, 2017 #2


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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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.
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