How often are you on your phone or laptop? How often do you just mindlessly scroll through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms? How often do you use the internet? We are sure the answer to those questions is ‘almost all the time’.
You are not alone. We are dependent on the internet for so many things and some companies track your online activity and collect your data. They will happily sell your private data to advertising companies for financial gain. The result? You get spammed with annoying ads. If you aren’t so lucky, your private information may end up in the hands of hackers.
This article focuses on simple steps you can take to protect yourself online and avoid being tracked. Continue reading to learn more.
Understanding Online Trackers
Websites track us in several ways but cookies and tracking pixels are the most commonly used tracking methods. Cookies are inserted into the code of websites you visit and they act as some sort of storage file that records your interaction with a specific website from what article you click on, language preferences, and so on.
Each website has its own specific cookies and that’s why the option to accept or decline cookies pops up every time you visit a new website. There are also third-party cookies, which make up most of the online cookies, that usually belong to advertising companies.
Other tracking methods used to collect data include:
- Web beacons or tracking beacons that monitor how you interact with a specific website.
- Favicons, are essentially supercookies but are difficult to remove or decline compared to normal cookies.
- Mouse tracking tracks users’ mouse movements as the name implies and helps to understand how people interact with a website.
- IP addresses: All devices are assigned an IP address and some websites can collect yours and use it to track your online activity.
Reasons Why You Are Being Tracked Online
If you are curious about why you are being tracked, you’ll find the reasons below.
Many website owners are interested in how you interact with their websites and collect data to have insights into this. Analyzing your interaction with their websites can help them to better understand their audience, position features or buttons better on certain pages, and so on.
It’s an open secret that your data is collected and sold to advertisers. They use your data to offer targeted ads. Gone are the days when companies needed to run surveys, questionnaires, or trials to find out what people are looking for. Not when they can get all this data from websites or companies that track you. Advertisers now know your spending habits, wants, hobbies, and other data they need.
While customization is crucial to modern advertising, the way advertising companies go about it these days can only be described as creepy. You search for a couch online or discuss getting a couch with a friend and you start to see ads about couches everywhere. Even in your dreams! Ok, that’s a joke.
Your private information is a potential source of financial gain for cybercriminals. They can use your private data to steal your identity, steal your financial information, create fake passports, or manipulate you through adware. Cybercriminals are always looking for new ways to steal your information and it’s important you take your online safety seriously
How to Stop Tracking
Protecting your private information is a big battle against three titans – cybercriminals, advertisers, and government authorities. But don’t fret, there are simple ways you can protect yourself from online tracking.
1. Use a VPN
How does a VPN Work? VPNs reroute your internet traffic through a secure tunnel and encrypt your data. This prevents cybercriminals, your Internet Service Provider (ISP), and even government agencies from tracking you or accessing your information. There are many reputable VPN providers on the market and they have different software for different platforms.
2. Clear Your Browser History and Cookies
By now, you should know cookies act as storage for your online activity. They are not your friends. Disable cookies when you visit a new website and clear existing cookies on your device. Clearing cookies may mean you have to re-enter your login information on some websites but a password manager can help with that.
3. Use a Private Browser
Some people confuse private browsers with incognito mode but they are not the same. Incognito mode doesn’t protect your data. Instead, your browsing information isn’t stored on your device but you can still be tracked. Private browsers, on the other hand, have several features like in-built ad-blocker, cookie customization, biometric bookmark security, and so on that help to protect your data.
Other tips include:
- Use privacy-friendly search engines.
- Be mindful of what you share on social media.
- Be careful on public wifi.
Many of us don’t give much thought to internet tracking when surfing the web. But we should because online safety is more important than ever. There’s a lot more than can be done with your private data than just selling them to advertisers. Follow the simple steps above and you’ll be more secure online today than you were yesterday.