How Not to Be Tracked Online
Don’t you find it quite amazing and a little disturbing how unique ads are sent to you about an item you talked about or searched for online? This phenomenon has become frequent and too spot on to be a coincidence.
Allow us to introduce you to the concept of online tracking and some internet safety best practices.
Who Collects Data and Why?
Data in our world today is as precious as oil was when we first discovered the many uses. Many companies, businesses, and organizations are currently hunting for valuable data to understand human behavioral patterns on the internet.
Data collection is a vague and somewhat vast concept for most. There are several types of data available today. Some of the basics include your personally identifiable data like email address and social security number. More complicated data include online purchases and financial details, online activities and the pages you visit, how long you spend on these pages, your email conversations, and much more.
To answer “who collects data and why” let's start with the negative. The culprits we consider here are hackers. Hackers use numerous and ever-evolving techniques to illegally obtain data from people, all in a bid to swindle them out of PII, money, and/or belongings.
~Legal Data Tracking
~The simple truth is, once you are on the internet, you are being monitored, and your relevant information is generally used to make your internet experience more pleasurable and worthwhile. It's more like an algorithm that helps the system sieve out irrelevant content based on your engagement and interests. You will also find subjects, topics, products, and services that you spend more time watching or researching pop up on your feed more often than others.
~In most cases, the companies and masterminds behind this concept will rarely use the information gathered from your online or internet activities for anything malicious or harmful to you. Most often than not, the tracking done here serves as an advertisement survey strategy to identify target audiences for products and services.
~That said, your internet service provider is the chief body that can collect your data and track your activities online. They can monitor your online activities, collect relevant data from you and sell that data to third party marketers. These marketers use the data bought from your internet service providers to send out tailor-made ads to their exact target audiences.
~~Note: this action by your service provider is entirely legal, even in a developed country like the United States of America. So be sure to know what your service providers are collecting from you.
~Additionally, cookies have become ever popular and have since been protected and managed by internet compliance powers. They are also a primary avenue of online tracking. Cookies are small bits of info downloaded and stored by your web browser. Cookies help websites and services to understand and know your online habits and pattern, which allows them to send your suitable ads, website suggestions, and more.
How Can You Be Tracked Online?
Surface-level online tracking often makes your information or data look safe. However, this may not always be the case as your data is sometimes not always secure from third parties and pesky hackers. Here are the common ways you can be tracked online.
- Through IP addresses
- Cursor & Type tracking software
- Cross-tracking via multiple devices
- Search History
The question on your mind right now might be “how do I protect myself while online?” Well, there are several ways to keep your information safe. You do not need to be a tech genius to accurately practice internet safety.
How to Lessen Online Tracking
~Adjust Privacy Settings
~Although some levels of internet tracking may be impossible to avoid, there are some ways to minimize who can track you on your device. One such way is to adjust your privacy settings.
~When location services, like GPS, are not in use on your mobile phone, it would be best to disable your location. Lastly, when using a smart tv, you can opt-out of apps and services that you are not comfortable with monitoring your activity.
~In your browser settings you can manage your own privacy settings. These settings should alert sites you visit as to what you think is okay and not okay. While tedious, combing through your frequented sites and making sure they don’t use privacy settings you disagree with could beneficial too.
~Set Devices to 'Do Not Track'
~Luckily, this is not a tedious safe-guard to implement. All you must do is enable the DO NOT TRACK feature on your browser settings. You should also know that this function operates as a request to websites, so, some websites and browsers may not honor your request.
~Don't Allow Sites to Save Cookies
~Cookies are small data blocks forged by your web server while you use the internet. It creates a trail path or online pattern you follow while using the internet.
~With the release of CCPR Compliance, when you open a new site, and a notification should pop up to "allow or accept cookies." More sophisticated sites may give you a choice to manage what cookies get collected. Otherwise, most sites will simply have you select ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.
~On some sites, if you select ‘No’, you may not be able to use their site. On other sites, when selecting ‘No’ you refuse the website permission to document your activity. Not granting permission also shields you from some website features and technological harm thereby increasing your internet safety.
~Stay Private on Wi-Fi
~As essential as Wi-Fi is now-a-days, connecting your device to public Wi-Fi makes it highly susceptible to hacking. Therefore, you should try to only connect to private Wi-Fi or personal hotspots to help lessen the likelihood you will be hacked and to protect your PII. For added security you can stay private by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network), a personalized encrypted network sitting between you and your device.
~Use Tracking/Ad Blockers
~A tracking/ad blocker is exactly what it sounds like. It will prevent tracking and potentially harmful ads to pop up. Using a track blocker denies internet tracking on your devices from websites and browsers, while an ad blocker protects your device from spam and tailored ads that spur from internet tracking.
~Safely Surf the Web
~A principal way to avoid internet tracking is to ensure the sites you visit and the browser you use is safe from online monitoring. You can do this by using the incognito tab, which avoids cookies from being saved on your browser. Installing security on your device will also add a layer of security. Norton, for example, will have a green checkmark next to safe websites. In addition, it would help if you always looked out for sites with "HTTPS" at the beginning of their URL because this means the website is safe and secure.
Tips to Protect Yourself Online
Here are a few ways you can improve your internet safety as you use the web.
~Browse in Incognito Mode
~Browsing in incognito mode hides your browsing history, cookies, site data, or any information from the forms filled. At the same time, your browsing history is not saved on your device, therefore leaving no visible path. By extension, your browser has no record of your time on the sites visited and therefore cannot benefit from your online history.
~If you don’t have ‘DO NOT TRACK’ activated websites may still be able to see your activity. Additionally, incognito mode does not block your history if you have a laptop from your company or laptop, as they often have special systems downloaded to continue documenting your activity for their own liability. Your internet service provider may also still be able to see your activity based on your plan and settings.
~Use a VPN
~A virtual private network (VPN) shields your device and information from hackers by encrypting every information to and from your computer through the internet. By implication, any data or information you enter while online is shielded and scrambled so the outside world because they can’t interpret or understand it.
~A VPN can also hide your location by making it hard for anyone to pinpoint your IP address. It is also an excellent way to use Public Wi-Fi as it provides end-to-end encryption which minimizes your risk of exposure.
~Regularly Clear Browsing History and Caches
~Clearing your browsing history and caches allows your browser to be refreshed and flush out any data it has stored up. Clearing your cookies is generally not a bad idea too. This insures most-to-all copied data has been dumped.
~Don't Link Accounts Together
~Linking all your accounts together is a one-size-accesses-all package that every hacker wants to see. Linking accounts makes online tracking easy for cybercriminals and is a terrible internet safety practice. Although using one password might seem convenient, it is imperative to use different passwords for each different account.
~Only Visit Secure Sites
~The easiest way to know if a site is secure is by looking out for this feature, "HTTPS," on the site's URL. Alternatively, you can check for the padlock sign beside the URL. Any site that does not have this feature at the beginning of its URL is unsafe and insecure. Visiting such a site can affect your internet safety and make you susceptible to all kinds of harm online. These sites often do not follow any internet compliances or privacy policies. Using these types of sites can lead to Identity Theft.
Protecting yourself online starts with not allowing the unknown internet evils to track you. Your data and online activity have become precious jewels, and people are willing to do almost anything to collect and track your activity. Allowing tracking can lead to 3rd parties getting your information, hackers identifying your IP address and more.