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How to Keep from Being Tracked Online

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How to Keep from Being Tracked Online

 

Have you ever felt like you were being watched? Is that just being paranoid? The truth is that you, I, and everyone else online are being watched everyday. Sadly privacy seems to be a thing of the past. In the data centric age in which we live information is a commodity and everything all to often is for sale.

When you are online everything is data. That includes personally identifiable information like your browser history, what browser you are using, some hardware information, social media posts, images, any information that you submit in forms, online purchases, and more. Governments, corporations, hackers, and websites can collect your data through tracking if you don’t take steps to protect it. I hope this is painting a picture of how important your data really is. All of this shows why online privacy is essential.

There are many ways that you can be tracked online. You can be tracked through cookies. Cookies are small bits of text that are downloaded by and stored in your browser. Cookies contain some sort of information about your visit to the site. They are sometimes used to track you for targeted advertising purposes and other times are just used to improve your overall experience on the website. According to the antivirus provider AVG, “75% of the worlds websites use tracking tools“. Hackers can use phishing to try to trick you into giving them your information so they can steal your identity. Your ISP can collect much of your data and sell it for a profit. They are your gateway to the internet so they track you everywhere. Even mobile apps and browser extensions track you. It isn’t paranoid to say that you are definitely being watched.

Some might wonder what the big dead is. So they know a little bit of information. Why such a fuss about it? The problem is that when thousands of pieces of information are put together they start to paint a picture. Governments, corporation, and hackers can and do build a profile of you. A profile that a government can violate your privacy and rights with, a corporation can use to follow you around the web and target you with ads (or sell to 3rd parties), or hackers can use to exploit and steal your identity. When you are profiled in such a way they will know more things about you than you might think. Things like:

  • Where you live
  • Birthday
  • Anniversary
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Likes and dislikes
  • Favorite music
  • Political opinion and religion
  • Purchase history
  • Car you drive
  • Websites you visit
  • Restaurants you frequent
  • Social Security Number (if you’re not careful)
  • And more…

The thing is that your data is like breadcrumbs. One piece of information can lead to another. Even if you have nothing to fear from the government and hackers leave you alone you can be sure companies and websites are watching. What can they do?

  • Sell your information.
  • Spam you with ads.
  • Jack up prices if it appears that you have a higher income.

Who Is Tracking You?

Top 10 Web Trackers According to WhoTracksMe

  1. Google
  2. Facebook
  3. Amazon
  4. Cloudflare
  5. Twitter
  6. Microsoft
  7. comScore, Inc.
  8. Adobe
  9. New Relic
  10. Yandex

Run Panopticlick to get an idea of how vulnerable you are to tracking. Here is how to do it:

Go to the Panopticlick webpage.

 

Panopticlick, how to keep from being tracked online

 

Hit the TEST YOUR BROWSER button.

 

Panopticlick, how to keep from being tracked online

 

With the results from your Panopticlick scan you have an idea of where you stand right now. After you have applied the tips in this blog post you will be far more fortified against online tracking.

How to Stop Others from Tracking You Online

If you would like to stop the internet snoops from tracking every move you make online then take the steps listed below. Your data should belong to you and you have a right to keep it safe from prying eyes. When it comes to web browser settings I am giving you instructions on how to do it on a desktop or laptop computer. In my next blog post I will how to change the settings on mobile.

Google Activity Controls

Head to Google Activity Controls.

 

Google Activity controls, how to keep from being tracked online

 

Make sure Web & App Activity is turned off.

 

Google Activity controls, how to keep from being tracked online

 

 

Click Auto-delete and set it to auto-delete activity older than a certain amount of time. I set mine to 3 months. Then click Next. Then Click Confirm. Then click Got it.

 

Google Activity controls, how to keep from being tracked online

 

Google Activity controls, how to keep from being tracked online

 

Google Activity controls, how to keep from being tracked online

 

Google Activity controls, how to keep from being tracked online

 

Google Activity controls, how to keep from being tracked online

 

Send a Do Not Track Request

Google Chrome:

  1. Click to open the 3 dot menu in the upper right corner.
  2. Click Settings.
  3. Click Privacy and security.
  4. Click Cookies and other site data.
  5. Scroll down to the Do Not Track setting and toggle it on.
  6. Click Confirm.

Mozilla Firefox:

  1. Click to open the hamburger (3 line) menu in the upper right corner.
  2. Click Settings.
  3. Click Privacy & Security.
  4. Choose Always under the “Do Not Track” Setting.

Microsoft Edge:

  1. Click to open the 3 dot menu in the upper right corner.
  2. Click Settings.
  3. Click Privacy, search, and services.
  4. Under “Tracking prevention” choose Balanced. You can choose Strict but keep in mind that it can cause some websites not to work.

Apple Safari:

  1. Click Safari in the upper left of the window.
  2. Click Preferences.
  3. Click Privacy.
  4. Choose the option to prevent cross-site tracking.
  5. Click Websites.
  6. Click Location.
  7. Set “When visiting other websites” to Deny.

Disable 3rd Party Cookies

Google Chrome:

  1. Click to open the 3 dot menu in the upper right corner.
  2. Click Settings.
  3. Under “Privacy and security” click Cookies and other site data.
  4. Click Block third-party cookies.

Mozilla Firefox:

  1. Click to open the hamburger (3 line) menu in the upper right corner.
  2. Click Settings.
  3. Click Privacy & Security.
  4. On the right choose Custom.
  5. In the dropdown beside “Cookies” select All third-party cookies.

Microsoft Edge:

  1. Click to open the 3 dot menu in the upper right corner.
  2. Click Settings.
  3. Click Cookies and site permissions.
  4. Click Manage and delete cookies and site data.
  5. Toggle on the block third-party cookies setting.

Apple Safari:

  1. Click Safari in the upper left of the window.
  2. Click Preferences.
  3. Click Privacy.
  4. Make sure that “Prevent third-party” cookies is on.

Cover Your Computer Camera

Yes, it’s not fiction that a hacker can watch you through your webcam. It can be hacked. The good news it that you can easily protect yourself. All you have to do is keep the camera covered when you aren’t using it. You can use tape to cover it but beware that taking this approach can lead to lense damage. The best solution is to use a webcam cover. They aren’t expensive and work well without damaging your lense. Check them out on Amazon.

Guard Your Personal Details

When you post information to social media, YouTube, online forums, or other public places on the internet anyone can get to it one way or another. The more information you share the more pieces of information about yourself you are giving other people to put together. If you overshare then you are giving others a lot of information to paint a picture of your life. That means that any scammers, identity thieves, potential stalkers, and other predators may see the information and use it to profile you.

uBlock Origin

uBlock Origin is an ad blocker that is available for all major browsers. I have used it for a long time and highly recommend it. It will make your web browsing more pleasant and protect your privacy by blocking annoying and invasive ads.

Privacy Badger

This browser extensions blocks trackers that track you across multiple websites. It works very well and I install it on all of my browsers.

Decentraleyes

There is a lot that goes into creating a website. To take some of the work out of it web developers share Javascript and web frameworks. The host for the shared code is called a Content Delivery Network (CDN). This is actually a pretty efficient approach to sharing content. The thing to keep in mind is that CDN’s aren’t free. So when a website uses a CDN for free then they have to make that money somewhere. Where you ask? Your data. Hosts like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Cloudflare, and others make up for allowing you to use the CDN everytime you visit a website by using your data for marketing purposes or selling it. Simply they track you from site to site. Decentrleyes provides a solution to all of this. It protects your privacy by storing commonly used resources locally and then blocks requests to get them from CDNs. As a result it helps to stop the tracking and as a side effect some websites might load more quickly.

HTTPS Everywhere

I’m sure that by now most of us have seen some website URLs that begin with HTTP and orthers with HTTPS. The main difference is that with HTTPS sites the data between you and the server is encrypted and with HTTP sites your data is not encrypted. HTTPS Everywhere is a browser extension that automatically applies HTTPS to the websites that you visit whenever it is available.

PixelBlock

PixelBlock’s mission is a simple one. It blocks people from tracking when you open the emails that they send you. It is a browser extension that is unfortunately only available for Google Chrome and the new Microsoft Edge.

Run a VPN

VPN is short for Virtual Private Network. When you run a VPN it encrypts all of the data that you are sending and receiving over the internet and hides your true location making it appear that you are located somewhere other than where you actually are. It is an important tool to add to your privacy and security tool kit. I highly recommend that you read, Why You Need a VPN and What It Will Do for You, before choosing a VPN. That way you will have a better understanding of what a VPN is and does and will know what to look for as well as what to avoid.

Opt Out of Android and iPhone Ad Personalization

On Android:

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Tap Google.
  3. Tap Ads.
  4. Toggle on Opt out of Ads Personalization.

iPhone:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Tap Privacy.
  3. Tap Apple Advertising.
  4. Turn off Personalized Ads.

Check Your Online Account Privacy Settings

Go through the security and privacy settings on all of your online accounts. Your privacy is your responsibility and it is important to know that you have made your accounts as safe as possible.

Check App Permissions

Most of us don’t think about this one but if we are concerned about privacy and security it is imperative that we start to take this seriously. We see an application or game that we want to install on our smartphones and don’t even stop to think about the access that we are agreeing to give that app to our devices. For example, a flashlight app shouldn’t need access to your microphone or contacts. You should only allow apps the permissions that they actually need. It is well worth the effort to take the time to pay attention to this. It is also important to go into your settings and check what permissions the apps that you have already installed have and make adjustments from there.

If You Would like to Take Tracker Blocking to the Next Level…

NoScript

NoScript is a powerful web browser extension that gives you control over which JavaScripts you will and won’t allow to run. JavaScript is a web scripting language that developers can use to make websites more interactive. On the modern internet you run into JavaScript almost everywhere without even realizing it. Keep in mind that though JvaScript makes the web far more interactive and interesting it can also be abused and used to invade your privacy, infect your device with malware, and steal your information. Don’t get me wrong, JavaScript is a good thing and much of what we do on the web is built on it. Just remember to be careful where you go, what you click on, and if you want to take your privacy and security to the next level install NoScript. Just keep in mind that some websites won’t work right until you tell NoScript what scripts to allow and which ones to deny.

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is a privacy conscious search engine. Saying that isn’t an exaggeration. Their official policy is to respect your privacy, not track you, and not keep logs of your activities. They not only make the promise they follow through. The only thing that has kept me from switching to them is that I get my best results from Google and I use so many Google services. The difference between the two search engines is that DuckDuckGo respects your privacy and Google uses your data. If you would like to give DuckDuckGo a try head on over and go for it.

Brave Browser

Brave is a web browser that tries to protect privacy and prevent tracking. It is very similar to Google Chrome in the way it look and works because it is built on the same open source code, Chromium.

Brave’s Priorities:

  • Block adds without going so far as to harm the income of the content providers that rely on them.
  • Eliminate ad trackers.
  • They take the attitude that what you do on your browser isn’t any of their business.

Brave is an excellent browser and I have toyed with switching over to it myself.

Tor Browser

Tor is short for The Onion Network. The Tor Browser is a web browser that anonymizes you. Though it has some limitations depending on your own behavior it is very good at what it does. It runs on the Tor network. When using Tor it encrypts your traffic and you connect to a Tor relay (also called a node), then to another, and so on. You are bounced around relays and no relay has any information about you except the relay you just connected from and which one you are connecting to. Long story short it makes it very difficult to track you. In other words you become anonymous. Keep in mind though that some websites won’t work well on Tor. It is the privacy through anonymity browser.

If you follow the tips in this post you will get ahead of the trackers and will start to bring your privacy under control. You will also find that you are more secure than you were when you began. I’ll repeat it again, your privacy and security is your responsibility. Protect yourself and take steps today to keep your data, identity, reputation, and online accounts safe.

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