Tracking software

On 7:28 PM

Tracking software is software which notes and logs actions made at a computer.

For example, if a user checks his email, tracking software can make a record of the action. The same applies to chat, instant messages, Web sites visited, keystrokes typed, and so on.

Who uses tracking software?

There are four principal groups who use tracking software: parents, employers, governments, and illegal users. Parents who want to be certain their children are not involved with inappropriate web activity, and employers who decide to track activity on workstations owned or controlled by the business. Illegal tracking can be by criminals (acting on commission from other criminals, perhaps) or businesses wishing to collect usage patterns for marketing departments. Government use of tracking software or hardware is, as far as is known, largely confined to criminal investigations. In some countries, including the US, 'criminal activity' has been redefined to include surveillance of any citizen for terrorist connections or activities. Given the width of this redefinition, this is probably the largest and most comprehensive tracking activity in existence.

Other users include schools and suspicious spouses.

Cookies

A HTTP Cookie is a World Wide Web browser mechanism to preserve machine state, or interaction history, in Web interactions, since the core HTTP protocol was deliberately designed to be stateless. There is no restriction on the content of cookies stored on the HTTP client by a browser and so, if configured to do so, cookies may store tracking information for later retrieval by a server computer or by tracking software. In this sense then, cookies can be used to facilitate tracking of user activities. Cookies are used by essentially all Internet merchants (eg, for cart tracking), and by most Web sites requiring registration or membership. In addition, they are used by most of the advertising click tracking companies such as DoubleClick.

Controversy

Tracking software has been a source of controversy. While companies claim that their programs are used to protect children and enforce computer policies at workplaces, there has been strong criticism that this invades users' privacy, if for no other reason than that there is often no way to distinguish between one user of a computer and other users of the same machine. Some operating systems make no internal distinction between users, and others make such distinctions difficult for most user programs, including tracking software, to follow. Much tracking software doesn't even bother to try. Other critics say that these software programs, especially if they have keylogging capabilities, can be used for malicious or criminal purposes, such as identity theft and unauthorized access to other systems.

Often, one side of a company's operations sells tracking software, while another side considers tracking software to be spyware and offer programs designed to detect or remove them. There are hundreds of vendors of computer monitoring software such as Retina-X Studios, who explicitly forbid the use of monitoring software as spyware. Many companies also support detection of tracking software by providing anti-spyware programs.

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Vishnu vardhan Reddy Boda is Tech Blogger and Software Engineer.

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