We might not live in an Orwellian society yet, but it certainly can feel that way at times with the rise of online tracking. If the threat of government intrusion wasn’t enough, tech firms and advertisers have been tracking users and gathering massive amounts of information. Even if you’re unaware of online tracking, it’s still happening (ever notice an ad “following” you around different websites?).
Since knowledge is power, here are four ways that online entities can log your online browsing and activities, as well as some handy tips on how to stop them.
4 They’ll Ask You for Data Directly
With all of the technology available to advertising companies and other tracking entities, it’s hard to imagine that they would just ask users to give them private information about themselves. But, at times, that’s exactly what they do.
In one case ahead of the 2016 U.S. election, then- candidate Ted Cruz hired a third party company to collect psychological data on U.S. citizens via a massive online survey, according to The Observer. Worst still, the users who participated had no idea what it was about — let alone that it was being used for a political campaign by a prominent politician.
3 Track Your Cookies
Some cookies can even spot you when you’re running on different devices, Digital Trends reported. The various entities can even use a process called “cookie syncing” to share information with each other, allowing for them to build a better profile of who you are.
2 Use Canvas Fingerprinting
Canvas fingerprinting is another mechanism that online entities use to track users. Put simply, it’s a script that tells your browser to draw an invisible and distinctive image that it can use to track the device you’re on — and you.
It’s also widely used across a variety of websites, from new sites to blogs and even the White House website. Also, unlike cookies, canvas fingerprint scripts can’t be deleted from your browser — so they’ll work whether you want them to or not.
1 Analyze Your Habits
But even beyond cookies and surveys, certain companies with a lot of reach— like Facebook and Google — can collect huge amounts of data about you, your identity and your online and offline habits. And they can collect this information simply because you use their services.
Facebook, for example, logs everything you do: your status updates, your photos, the pages you like and interact with, and your favorite friends. The social media platform then assembles a detailed profile about you, which it sells to advertisers so they can place highly targeted ads. So now, these “free” online services aren’t actually free.
What You Can Do About It
While every move you make on the internet is probably being logged recorded and analyzed, there are a handful of things you can do to mitigate online tracking.
- For starters, don’t participate in random surveys that you don’t know much about.
- Install and use a VPN on your device. It not only protects you from hackers, but it can keep advertisers and other entities from tracking you.
- Use a cookie-blocking extension for your browser, and only whitelist sites that you absolutely trust or that you need to remember certain data. You can also easily delete cookies from your browser.
- Use a privacy software like Ghostery, a privacy browser extension, or Tor, a full-fledged anonymous browsing platform.
- Get familiar with canvas fingerprinting, and if at all possible, avoid sites that utilize the scripts. You can find lists of which sites use the method here.
- It can be hard to avoid using free online services or social media platforms like Google and Facebook. You can use privacy-focused alternatives such as email client Hushmail, or search engine DuckDuckGo.
- Be mindful of the data online services may be collecting about you. For its part, Google has a page where you can review your online activity.