Who’s Tracking You on the Web and Why you Should Care

Published by: Andrew Paul    |   Category: Blog, Privacy    

Companies will pay big bucks to learn more about you, what websites you go to and what you do when you get there. It’s no secret that there’s big money to be made in violating your privacy. Service providers on the web are eager to get their hands on as much information about you as possible. If you’re not paying for a service, you’re the product, not the customer, and it’s never been more true. These are companies that tracks your every move on the web to learn as much about you, your browsing habits and activities as possible. Weather you believe it or not; your personal information is valuable. You may be like 95% of the people who use the Internet and say to yourself, “Who cares if they track me on the web”. You might ask yourself, “what information could these companies possibly know or track about me” and you would be very surprised. They collect information about people, their demographics, income, habits, and then roll it up so they could get a complete picture about who you are and how to convince you to buy their products or services. In some cases they will design web sites and campaigns to convince you to provide even more information in exchange for a coupon, discount, or the simple promise of other offers. It works very, very well.

The real money is in taking your data and aggregating it while combining it with third parties to help come up with new ways to convince you to spend money, sign up for services, and give up more information. Relevant ads are nice, but the real value in your data exists where you won’t see it until you’re too tempted by the offer to know where it came from, whether it’s a coupon in your mailbox or a new daily deal site with incredible bargains tailored to your desires. It all sounds good until you realize the only thing you have to trade for such ‘exciting’ bargains is everything personal about you: your age, income, family’s ages and income, medical history, dietary habits, favorite web sites, your birthday…the list goes on. It would be fine if you decided to give up this information for a tangible benefit, but you may never see a benefit aside from an ad, and no one’s including you in the decision.

Below is a graph showing my morning browsing history, as seen by these “cookie monsters” who tracked my every move on the web as I drank my first cup of coffee. This graph is generated by a Firefox plugin called Collusion. Collusion is an experimental add-on for Firefox that allows you to see which sites are using third-party cookies to track your movements across the Web. It shows, in real time, how that data creates a spider-web of interaction between companies and other trackers.

Privacy - Collusion Graph

OK, so what’s next? How can I protect my privacy?

Below are your options broken down by your browser of choice.

Chrome & Firefox:

Adblock Plus – With it, you can banish social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ from transmitting data about you after you leave those sites, even if the page you visit has a social plugin on it.

Ghostery – Ghostery does an excellent job at blocking the invisible tracking cookies and plug-ins on many web sites, showing it all to you, and then giving you the choice whether you want to block them one-by-one, or all together so you’ll never worry about them again.

ScriptNo for Chrome – ScriptNo is much like Ghostery in that any scripts running on any site you visit will sound its alarms. The difference is that while Ghostery is a bit more exclusive about the types of information it alerts you to, ScriptNo will sound the alarm at just about everything, which will break a ton of websites.

IE9:

Microsoft – has published a tracking protection add-in for IE9 to stop them.

Mobile & Tablet:

Some mobile browsers have private modes and the ability to automatically clear your private data built in, like Firefox for Android, Atomic Web Browser, and Dolphin Browser for both iOS and Android. Considering Dolphin is our pick for the best Android browser and Atomic is our favorite for iOS, they’re worth downloading.

Is there any foolproof way to browse the Internet totally anonymous from your own computer, phone or tablet?

There actually is and we will be covering this in another Email Answers Blog article coming soon.