Every day we are confronted with online privacy issues and how they have been impacted by online tracking. You may have even witnessed these events for yourself. Have you noticed how suddenly you see ads about products or services you searched for a few days ago? Someone has been paying attention to your browser searches. But how are you being tracked, and what can you do to stop it?
In this article, we’ll address online tracking and how websites, apps and platforms know precisely what you’re browsing. We’ll also look at what happens to your data once it’s been collected. Finally, we’ll discuss ways to keep yourself from being tracked, such as using proxies with residential IPs and user-switcher agents.
- How are you being tracked?
- What happens to your data?
- How to avoid being tracked online
How Are You Being Tracked?
Websites, search engines and even social media platforms use various ingenious methods to track your online activity. While they track you, they collect your data, such as your personal details, preferences, history and more.
This is one of the most common ways you’re being tracked. Your IP address is linked to every request you make, and any website or platform you visit can see it. Once they see your IP address, they can use it to track you, often using other methods alongside your IP information.
You may already be familiar with cookies, and it seems every second site you visit will ask you to accept cookies. Although cookies were originally developed to optimize how you experience the website, they’re also being used for tracking. A cookie is a small piece of data stored on your device that can monitor your online activity, such as the websites and platforms you visit.
Web beacons usually contain a clear image you won’t even see. They often occur on a web page, series of web pages or emails and can be used to track your activity.
Device fingerprinting is becoming a more common way for users to be tracked. In this technique, websites create a unique device fingerprint consisting of your IPs, personal information, device information, browser information and more.
What Happens To Your Data?
Websites, search engines and other platforms track your activity for a few reasons. The first is to improve your experience. Knowing details about your browser and even your preferences, websites can show you content optimized for your device. Websites also use the information they gather on you to provide targeted ads. Social media platforms like Facebook are notorious for doing this, but search engines like Google do the same thing.
Another reason you’re being tracked is that businesses can sell your data, as this can be a lucrative side hustle. However, you don’t know who they’re selling it to. Your data could end up on the dark web and in the hands of a hacker who can target you with malicious attacks. Such as identity theft, phishing attacks, malware and more.
How To Avoid Being Tracked Online
Before you shut down your device and never use them again, there are ways to protect yourself and keep your data from being tracked.
Proxies can be used to hide and change your IP address, making it impossible for websites to track you. These proxies will change your IP to one from their pool of residential IPs. You can even choose options that include rotating residential IPs that will change your IP with each new request for even more protection.
Using multiple browsers is another way to confuse trackers. You can choose a different browser each day, and at the end of your session, make sure to clear the browsing history, cookies and cache to make it even more difficult for you to be tracked.
User Agent Switchers
Your user agent is shown to every website as you request information. This includes information that the web server needs to show you the information, such as your device, OS, system specs and more. You can use a browser-switcher agent (usually available as a browser extension), which you can use to change your user agent to confuse web trackers.
Enable ‘Do Not Track’
Most browsers have a ‘Do Not Track’ setting, which you can enable. Although this doesn’t completely protect you, it’s helpful to enable and use alongside other precautions mentioned here.
Tor browser is one of the few completely anonymous browsers. They do not share your IP or details with web servers and automatically wipe your search history after every session. It is an excellent browser option if you’re concerned about your activity being tracked.
You can never really know how you’re being tracked. As technology advances, more ways are being discovered to track users and collect data. As such, you must take as many different precautions as you can to ensure your online privacy.