The prevalence of online tracking is becoming increasingly well known. As you browse the web, the websites you use are constantly collecting information about you. This information is primarily used to display relevant advertising.
Online tracking is considered by many to be the price you pay for access to free web services. But what if you don’t want to be tracked? Is it possible to browse the Internet without revealing information about yourself?
Here’s why your information is valuable and what you can do if you want to protect your privacy.
Why are you being tracked?
Online tracking is done to optimize websites and display targeted ads.
Website optimization is achieved by understanding enough about you to automatically adapt to your preferences. A website may want to know your location in order to provide relevant content in the language you speak. By understanding the preferences of all website users as a whole, improvements can also be made to site design.
Tracking is used for advertising purposes because it makes ads more effective. As websites gather more information about you, they can show you more relevant ads. This increases the rate at which you click on them and purchase products and services. The more information websites have about you, the more they can charge for advertising.
Why is Tracking Unpopular?
Regardless of what the tracking information is used for, most people don’t like the idea of organizations collecting information about them. While seeing more relevant ads doesn’t actually hurt anyone, the idea of these types of advertisers understanding their behavior and personality is something that worries many people.
There is also the issue of not knowing where this information ends up. Collected data is often sold to other parties, and even if it isn’t, it can potentially be stolen.
How Are Advertisers Tracking You?
Advertising is the only thing that makes many online services profitable. Tracking makes advertising more effective, and that’s why online services have become so good at it.
A wide range of different tracking methods are now available. There are several ways you can be tracked when you surf the web.
Cookies are small pieces of code that are added to your browser when you surf the web. Cookies allow websites to understand which websites you have previously visited. It is used to keep you logged in to online services, but also to understand your behavior and therefore deliver more relevant ads.
Cookies record not only the sites you visit, but also specific pages and how you interact with them. Cookies allow advertisers to know what products you view and what terms you use on a search engine like Google. This provides a wealth of information that can be used to determine what interests and hobbies you have and what products to show you later.
A browser fingerprint is all the information your browser provides about you. This includes device details such as operating system and screen resolution, and details of your browser such as its version and installed extensions. All these data vary widely and therefore it is possible to trace an internet user only from a fingerprint.
URL trackers are used to identify how you accessed a particular website. They are embedded in website links and direct you to specific pages. They are often used to measure the effectiveness of individual advertising campaigns. By segmenting users according to which ad campaign they clicked on, it is possible to understand which campaigns are driving sales.
How to stop advertisers from tracking you
Most tracking methods are easy to understand, so it’s possible to avoid tracking by changing the way you browse the web.
Clear your cookies regularly
All browsers allow you to delete your cookies. This prevents most tracking attempts, but it’s not always convenient. Cookies are used to keep you logged in to your accounts and after they are deleted, you will need to log in again. To avoid this, you should review all stored cookies and delete only the ones you do not need.
Use a browser that blocks some cookies
Many browsers now include settings that allow you to decide which cookies are stored on your device. The simplest option is to not allow all third-party cookies to be stored. This will automatically allow necessary cookies to be stored and prevent others. Depending on the browser, you may also only allow cookies from certain websites.
Use a Browser Extension that prevents fingerprinting
Browser fingerprinting is an increasingly well-known problem, and there are now many browser extensions to solve it. Privacy Badger is ideal for this purpose and is available for most browsers.
Does VPN Prevent Tracking?
VPNs are often associated with anonymity, but cannot prevent ad tracking.
VPNs are designed to encrypt your internet traffic and hide your IP address. Encrypting your Internet traffic hides your Internet activity from your ISP and prevents Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks. It does not prevent advertisers from tracking.
Hiding your IP address can prevent tracking in some cases. If someone is trying to track you based on your IP, a VPN obviously prevents that. Advertisers rarely use this method. Cookies are more effective and allow advertisers to track you wherever you are.
In general, VPNs are a useful tool, but not an effective way to hide from advertisers.
Online Stalking Is Powerful But Avoidable
Websites need a small amount of tracking to function as intended. However, many websites collect significantly more data than this. The goal is not to make sites easier to use, but to increase advertising revenue at the expense of users’ privacy.
Targeted advertising is not necessarily harmful. If you want to browse the web without being tracked, however, the main methods are to delete cookies and change your browser’s fingerprint so that you are no longer unique.