What is bounce tracking?
Bounce tracking is a technique used by Web trackers. It involves inserting an intermediary link between you and the website you want to visit, allowing a tracker to know you and / or your interests, and thus use this data to sell more targeted ads. This technique is also sometimes known as “redirect tracking.”
How does bounce tracking work?
When you click a bounce-tracked link, your browser first goes to a tracking site, which quickly redirects you to the real site. This redirect happens so quickly that you likely won’t even notice.
You generally can’t tell if a link will take you to a bounce tracker, even if you hover over the link before clicking it and look at the URL your browser shows. That URL might be for the real site the link is meant to go to, but it may be swapped out for a bounce-tracked link just as you click on it.
Why is bounce tracking used?
Bounce tracking works even in browsers that block third-party cookies, which more and more browsers are doing. While your browser is on the bounce tracker’s site, however briefly, the tracker can set first-party cookies, which are much less likely to be blocked. This ensures that the bounce tracker can reliably identify your browser any time it passes through, and thus build a more complete profile of your browsing activity.
During the brief “bounce” from the tracking site to the real site you intended to visit, the tracking site has a chance to set first-party cookies, to see which URL you came from, and to see which URL you’re going to. That information can be useful for advertising purposes, such as measuring the effectiveness of sponsored links.
How can I avoid bounce tracking?
Some browsers, like Brave, can recognize when you’re about to visit a bounce tracking site, and instead take you straight to the real URL. This feature—called “debouncing”—is built directly into the Brave browser, no extensions required.
There are some browser extensions that can do debouncing. However, extensions can introduce privacy and performance risks. Extensions are developed by third-party developers who may or may not be trustworthy. They may collect data about your browsing activity. And they might slow down your browser, drain your battery life, or both.
Some browsers try to mitigate the risks of extensions by limiting what they’re allowed to do. But that creates a different problem: With limited capabilities, extensions might not be able to fully block bounce tracking. There’s a fundamental tradeoff between safe extensions and powerful extensions. Debouncing that’s built into a browser avoids this tradeoff entirely.
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