You probably already know that each time you visit a website, that site and many of its partners—such as networks that supply advertisements—all record data about you and your behavior. But do you ever wonder whether the corporate owners of websites know exactly what data their partners are gathering? Do they keep track of what the partners learn, or do they give them unfettered access to the 21st century’s equivalent of a gold mine: consumer data?

Just What Is Data Collection?

Nearly every time you visit a website, such as an online news source, a retailer or a social media portal, all sorts of information about your visit is shared with various business partners. This may include items like your location (e.g., your zip code), perhaps your gender, what you did on the site and other facts that create a wealth of valuable and monetizable information. The business partners who gather this information include networks that serve ads, analytics services that enable the website to better understand its audience, and optimization services that enable the website to present information in a manner that is most compelling to you.

These business partners may have a negotiated contract with the website owner—or they may operate under standard “terms and conditions” applicable to all their clients. Sometimes, the contract states precisely what data the partner is gathering, but the website owner may (or may not) actively audit whether the partner is abiding by those terms.

What Data Is Actually Collected?

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