The prevalence of online tracking is becoming better known. As you browse the Internet, the websites you use constantly collect information about you. This information is mainly used to display relevant advertisements.
Online tracking is seen by many as the price to pay for accessing free web services. But what if you don’t want to be tracked? Is it possible to browse the Internet without providing information about yourself?
Here’s why your information is valuable and what you can do if you want to maintain your privacy.
Why are you being followed?
Online tracking is done to optimize websites and display targeted advertisements.
Website optimization is achieved by understanding you enough to automatically align with your preferences. A website may want to know your location 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 the design of a site.
Tracking is used for advertising purposes because it makes advertisements more effective. As websites collect more information about you, they are able to display more relevant advertisements. This increases the speed 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 the use of tracking information, most people don’t like the idea of organizations collecting information about them. While seeing more relevant ads isn’t really hurting anyone, the idea of these advertisers understanding their behavior and personality is something that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
There is also the problem of not knowing where this information ends up. The information collected is often sold to other parties, and even if this is not the case, it can potentially be stolen.
How do advertisers track you?
Advertising is the one thing that makes many online services profitable. Tracking makes advertising more effective and is therefore something that online services have become very good at.
There is now a wide range of different tracking techniques. Here are some ways you are tracked while browsing the web.
Cookies are small pieces of code that are added to your browser as you browse the Internet. Cookies allow websites to understand which websites you have visited previously. They are used to keep you logged in to online services, but they are also used to understand your behavior and so provide more relevant advertisements.
Cookies not only record the sites you visit, but also particular pages and how you interact with them. Cookies allow advertisers to know which products you have viewed and which terms you have used on a search engine like Google. This provides a lot of information that can be used to determine your interests and hobbies, and then what products to show you.
A browser fingerprint is all the information your browser provides about you. It includes your device details, such as operating system and screen resolution, and your browser details, such as its version and installed extensions. All this information is very variable and it is therefore possible to follow an Internet user only from his fingerprint.
URL trackers are used to identify how you landed on a particular website. They are included in website links and direct you to specific pages. They are often used to measure the effectiveness of individual advertising campaigns. By dividing users according to the advertising campaign they clicked on, it is possible to understand which campaigns increase sales.
How to stop advertisers from tracking you
Most tracking techniques are easy to understand, so it’s possible to prevent 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 practical. Cookies are used to keep you logged in to your accounts and once deleted you will need to log in again. To work around this problem, you must go through all saved cookies and delete only those that you do not need.
Use a browser that blocks certain cookies
Many browsers now include settings that allow you to decide which cookies are stored on your device. The simplest option is to prohibit the storage of all third-party cookies. This will automatically allow necessary cookies to be stored and prevent all others. Depending on the browser, you can also only allow cookies from particular websites.
Use a browser extension that prevents fingerprints
Browser fingerprinting is an increasingly well-known problem and now there are many browser extensions that aim to fix it. Privacy Badger is ideal for this purpose and is available for most browsers.
Does a VPN prevent tracking?
VPNs are often associated with anonymity but are unable to prevent advertiser 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. This does not prevent tracking by advertisers.
Hiding your IP address may prevent tracking in some cases. If someone tries to track you based on your IP address, a VPN obviously prevents that. Advertisers, however, rarely use this method. Cookies are more efficient and allow advertisers to follow you wherever you are.
Overall, VPNs are a useful tool but not an effective way to hide from advertisers.
Online tracking is powerful, but it can be prevented
A small amount of tracking is required for websites to work as intended. However, many websites collect much more information than this. The goal is not to make sites easier to use but to increase advertising profits at the expense of user privacy.
Targeted advertising is not necessarily harmful. However, if you want to browse the web without being tracked, the main techniques are to delete cookies and change your browser fingerprint since you are no longer unique.
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