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You are Tracked Online - Why? And How To Avoid Being Tracked Online
Every day in the headlines, we're made aware of how limited our online privacy truly is. These days, it's so easy for apps, websites and search engines to track our every move. While most tracking is done to improve targeted marketing efforts, this can be very annoying and isn't the only way our data is used. Staying private online and avoiding being tracked is the best option to ensure our security while browsing and using apps.
This article will discuss how you are being tracked and what happens to your data. Then we’ll also look at different ways to avoid being tracked online, such as using a datacenter proxy, rotating browsers and using helpful browser add-ons. Keep reading to find out what you can do to keep from being tracked while online.
How Are You Being Tracked Online?
There are many different ways that you can be tracked online. Your IP address can track you. Your IP address is a unique identifier essential for using the internet. This IP contains a lot of information about you, such as your location, your name (if listed with your ISP), and even details about your devices and operating systems. Not only that, but by tracking your IP address, trackers can get a clear picture of you. They can see where you buy groceries, which doctors you visit, which restaurants you frequent and even where you spend the night.
Your IP address isn’t the only way you can be tracked. When visiting websites, they have numerous trackers such as cookies, web beacons, pixel tags, and more stored on your device. As long as they are stored, they can track your online behavior.
Another way that you are tracked is through apps and the permissions you give. Many apps track you in some way or another. If you allow an app access to your GPS, they can track your location, if you give an app permission to your files, they can track your documents, and if you give an app permission to your photos, they can use the background information to track your location.
What Happens To Your Data?
In most cases, the websites, apps, or browsers use the data collected to improve the user experience. However, there are certain cases where your data ‘may be shared with other third parties, which is a nice way of letting you know your information may be sold. Unfortunately, there are also characters that track your online behavior with malicious intent. This can be to create specific attacks such as phishing or ransomware.
How To Avoid Being Tracked Online?
Let’s look at a few things you can do to avoid being tracked online. The more precautions you take when it comes to online anonymity, the safer you’ll be.
Use Rotating Proxies
A rotating datacenter proxy is one of the best ways to ensure your online privacy. These specialized datacenter proxy types rotate the IP address with each new request or after a specific period (such as every ten minutes). A datacenter proxy camouflages your IP address and replaces it with one of theirs. This means that your IP will be changing all the time, making it impossible to track.
Using a virtual private network (VPN) is another great tool to ensure online anonymity. These networks extend a private connection across all the devices on your network. Even if the network is a public one, such as the network you might find at the office, by using a VPN you can ensure your connection is private. A VPN is also useful for masking your online identity, encrypting your data and protecting you from snooping parties.
Opt Out Of Targeted Advertising
Many browsers, such as Chrome, have a default setting enabled that gives them permission to track you for targeted advertising purposes. Luckily, this is a setting which you can opt-out of from within the settings menu in your chosen browser. Look for any options that mention the browser can collect data for advertising purposes and disable any ad personalization options. You’ll have to look closely as this setting can be disguised and could read ‘Show Me Products That Would Interest Me’ or similar.
Use Multiple Browsers
As we mentioned, browsers store many different trackers on your device as you visit various websites. By frequently changing your browser, they cannot get a clear picture of your browsing behavior. Better yet, clear your browsing history, cache and cookies every time you switch between browsers to be more effective.
Use Private Browser, Incognito Mode And Don’t Allow Tracking
When deciding which browsers you want to use, try looking at private browsers or browsers that specify that they don’t track users. Examples of these are the Tor browser, DuckDuckGo and similar. For every browser you use, make sure that you enable the ‘Do Not Track’ setting for each browser. You should also try using all your selected browsers in incognito mode, although this mode on its own cannot guarantee you won’t get tracked, when combined with other measures on this list you can make it more difficult to be tracked.
Don’t Allow Cookies
If you're browsing different websites you might notice pop-ups asking you to allow cookies. Cookies are created by the web server while you browse the website. These contain data and get stored on the user's computer. These cookies are used to track, personalize and save information about each user's session.
Use Browser User-Agent Switchers
User-agent switchers are another helpful way to increase your online privacy. These useful browser extensions allow users to change the information given to websites and search engines. When entering a website, that website gets information such as the browser you’re using, the device you’re using, and your operating system to display the website optimally. By using a browser user-agent switcher, you can specify (and frequently change) what information is given to the websites. In other words, you can make the website think you’re using a specific Mac when in fact, you’re using a Windows laptop.
Use Add-Ons That Block Trackers
There are also add-ons that you can use that actively block trackers. This adds another layer of security and privacy to your online browsing. A few popular browser extensions that block trackers include Privacy Badger, Adblock Plus and Disconnect.
Use Secure Passwords
Passwords are an important way that people protect their online privacy. However, many users don’t use strong passwords, use the same password for everything, or have been using the same password since they first created a password. This makes it easier for hackers to get through. Instead, you should be using different passwords for all your accounts, make sure that they are strong and completely random and change them frequently.
Use Privacy Settings and Permissions Carefully
To ensure your online anonymity, you need to carefully review your privacy settings and permissions. Make sure that your social media accounts are set to private and not public as public data can be collected and tracked. Also, check that you enable the ‘Do Not Track’ option in the settings of the browsers you use. Finally, review your app permissions and disable any that aren’t needed. A navigation app doesn’t need access to your photos, for example.
Disable Social Media Tracking
We’re all aware that social media tracks us while we use them, and even when we don’t. By simply clicking on the share buttons found on other websites these social medias can get information on you. The same for the mobile apps of these platforms. To ensure that you aren’t being tracked you need to disable social media tracking. You can start this process by disabling all permissions from your social media account settings. Furthermore, there are also browser extensions such as Adblock Plus, that can keep social media pages from tracking you.
Use an Encrypted and Anonymous OS
For those who are really serious about their online privacy, a secure, encrypted operating system (OS) might be the best solution. Solutions like Tails, a Linux Live Image, can ensure complete privacy and online anonymity. Tails is an encrypted, private OS that includes other privacy tools on a tiny device. This device, once connected to your PC will change the OS to Tails. This OS is widely recognized as the most secure operating system in the world.
The internet, as well as the threats that cybercriminals use to exploit their victims, are constantly evolving and often users will fall short in implementing best practices. Tracking users online is not only seen as a marketing strategy for websites, it is often a resource for third parties to buy your information. Once this information has gotten into the wrong hands, there is a strong possibility of eventually facing a phishing or ransomware attack. Because of this, it is important to have as many safeguards in place as possible and change methods frequently to protect yourself online. Consider Tor and Tor Browser (based on Firefox), a web browser that anonymizes your web traffic when using the Tor network, making it easy to protect your identity online. This can be very appropriate for navigating without being tracked at specific times.