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Online advertising has permeated every aspect of our digital experiences. From search engine results to social media feeds, advertisements seem to follow us everywhere we go online.
Pixel tracking, often referred to as web beacon tracking, spy pixels, or tracking pixels, is one of the methods that is frequently employed by marketers and online advertisers for advertising purposes. Although the practice may appear innocent, pixel tracking substantially impacts users' digital security and privacy.
In this article, we will explore how pixel tracking works, the data it collects, and its risks and impacts, including the potential dangers it poses for individuals and businesses alike. The article will further delve into the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s recent enforcement actions, and the FTC’s new guidance on pixel tracking.
Individuals and companies can make more educated choices regarding online privacy and take the necessary precautions to secure their digital infrastructure by being aware of the risks and effects of pixel tracking.
FTC announced recent enforcement actions against two digital healthcare platforms for allegedly sharing user health information with external parties for marketing purposes. In both instances, third-party tracking pixels, which allow platforms to gather, examine, and draw conclusions about user behavior, were used.
On February 1, 2023, the FTC announced its first enforcement action under its Health Breach Notification Rule against a telehealth and prescription drug discount provider platform for failing to notify consumers and other persons of its unauthorized disclosures of consumers’ personal health information to Facebook, Google, and other companies. According to a groundbreaking proposed order filed by the US Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC, the company has agreed to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty and will not be permitted to share user health information with applicable third parties for advertising purposes.
A month later, on March 2, 2023, the FTC announced another proposed action banning an online counseling service from sharing consumers’ health data, including sensitive information about mental health challenges, for advertising purposes. According to the proposed order, the corporation must also pay $7.8 million to consumers to settle claims that it shared consumers’ sensitive data with third parties such as Facebook and Snapchat for advertising despite agreeing to keep such information private.
The FTC Office on Technology has issued new guidance following these measures. The new guidelines underline the risks associated with pixel technology tracking individuals’ online behavior and collecting personal data. The FTC has determined that ‘companies using tracking pixels that impermissibly disclose an individual’s personal information (which may include health information) to third parties may be violating the FTC Act, the FTC’s Health Breach Notification Rule, the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules, other state or federal statutes involving the disclosure of personal information, and [their] privacy promises to consumers.’
Pixel tracking is a method used in the digital marketing and advertising realm to monitor user behavior on websites and target ads to users based on the data collected on them.
Advertisers frequently employ pixel tracking to monitor the success of their marketing campaigns and further optimize them. For instance, a pixel can be added to a website's checkout page to monitor the number of customers who finalize their purchases after clicking on an advertisement. Then, using this data, future marketing initiatives can be improved, and users can be targeted more precisely based on their digital behavior.
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A pixel is a tiny, inconspicuous image or graphic that is embedded in an email or web page. Tracking pixels are not visible and are able to track and collect personal data on how a user behaves on a digital interface, including information regarding page visits, clicks, and conversions.
Here are the basic steps of how pixel tracking works:
The advertiser or marketer can then use this data to analyze user behavior and target future advertising campaigns.
Pixel tracking can pose several concerns for both users and businesses, including:
Companies can limit pixel tracking in several ways to safeguard the privacy of their website users and email subscribers. In this respect, some of the best techniques are:
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At Securiti, our mission is to enable enterprises to safely harness the incredible power of data and the cloud by controlling the complex security, privacy and compliance risks.
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