Come to think of it, of the billions of hours that all of us cumulatively spend on the Internet, we primarily perform 3 tasks: read, type, and click. So if businesses could access information about what you click and when, they could pretty much unravel the great mystery that is you -- the customer.
How do Businesses Get Access to Your Clickstream?
Most surfers do not know this, but there are many places that your clickstream gets stored. If you access a website, the server that hosts the website keeps track of the links you click. In addition, your own web browser stores your clickstream, not to forget your ISP's routers, and servers of ad networks that have code placed on multiple websites.
While on the one hand ecommerce businesses could mine and analyze clickstream data on their own websites, on the other clickstream data can be purchased.
Some of the information that clickstream data seeks to capture is:
- Where was the visitor before she reached my website?
- If a visitor came in from a search engine, what search term did she use?
- What webpage did the visitor first access on my website?
- What pages did the visitor access on my website? In what sequence?
- How much time did the visitor spend on each page?
- When and where did the visitor click the "back" button on the web browser?
- What items did the visitor add to (or remove from) her shopping cart?
- What was the page at which the visitor exited my website?
Examples of Clickstream Analysis
The application of clickstream data is only limited by your imagination. Here are some ideas:
Clickstream Data Analysis Privacy Concerns
Without meaning to sound alarmist, you should know that every time you navigate around the Internet, you are leaving behind a trail of data. But it is tough to not be alarmist. While the data in the clickstream may not contain personally identifiable information, it is possible that further analysis could generate personal data.
An interesting case in point is the historic AOL search data leak of 2006. AOL released anonymous search data for research purposes. But the New York Times was able to identify a specific person named Thelma Arnold, as one of the persons whose searches were in the released data. So your clickstream may not really be anonymous after all.