How to discourage information tracking
It can certainly feel like “Big Brother” is watching us with the way our online activities are being tracked. Typically, the information is being gathered for legitimate marketing means, but that will not necessarily make you feel any better. What’s more, tracking increases your exposure to potential identity theft.
You may not even notice that this is occurring. How do firms track your Internet activities? There are four primary methods:
1. Direct requests: Surprisingly, some firms do not hide behind the technology. Instead, they may come right out and ask you for your personal information. Unless you are willing to openly share your online habits, you can simply say “no” or obtain further clarification about how the information will be used.
2. Cookies: Briefly stated, a cookie is an encrypted file, stored on your computer or other device, that holds information that may be accessed by the web server. A cookie contains a script, or file, so that the information from a visit is carried forward. Using cookies, firms can paint a picture of your habits, whether you want them to or not.
3. Canvas fingerprints: These are similar to cookies in that online firms can track your use. Essentially, a canvas fingerprint is a script that tells your browser to draw an invisible image to track your activities on an electronic device. Unlike cookies, canvas fingerprints cannot be deleted from your browser. This technology is being used across a wide spectrum of websites.
4. Research: Certain firms that have a long reach—such as Google, Facebook and other social media sites—are able to collect reams of information about you when you use their services. This data is then sold to advertisers.
What can you do to keep Big Brother at bay? Here are several deterrents to consider:
- Do not participate in random surveys without knowing all the details.
- Install a virtual private network (VPN) on your computers. A VPN not only offers protection from hackers but it also makes it difficult for advertisers to track your online activities.
- Delete cookies from your browser. Alternatively, you might use a cookie-blocking extension for your browser and limit access to certain websites.
- Use other types of software or privacy browsing technology to discourage tracking.
Finally, you may want to continue to visit the websites and social media sites that compile your personal information, despite some inconveniences and risks. Just be aware: What you do online is being watched.