As anyone who was part of the Facebook political debacle recently involving Cambridge Analytica can attest, you aren’t safe. Need more proof? Consider how Facebook has your political views classified already, without you even telling them. Next, look at the ads that flood your feed, all targeted, and all due to tracking.
Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA and its outrageous tracking of Americans, shocking a nation. That’s not even half of it, when you consider the bigger picture. Websites, stores, and other bodies are tracking you, and even your Internet browsing is being tracked by the giants like Google. What happened the last time you went to a restaurant? Google maps told you where you were, and most likely asked for a review of your experience.
There’s more, millions upon millions of people worldwide are the victims of hackers and identity thieves. The loss of sensitive, financial and personal information happens on a daily basis.
Are you concerned yet? Chances are, you should be.
Assume you are Being Watched
As we mentioned, tech giants like Google are keeping tabs of your physical locations. They track your IP address, both on the computer as well as on your portable devices. They are also keeping a close eye on your browsing history so they can send you targeted ads and rake in the money. This is annoying but relatively harmless, but it doesn’t end there. Google is also giving your information to their advertisers to make sure that the ads you see are targeted directly at you.
Your email isn’t safe, either. Just by using certain phrases in your emails will result in bombardments of advertising concerning that phrase. For example, if you mention a laptop model in a mail, you will probably see an ad for that same model soon.
Online stores and services keep track of you as well. “Cookies” aren’t nearly as tasty as they sound. These sites are building a profile about you so they can send you even more unwanted ads, offers and emails.
Receiving multiple ads is a revealing clue that you are being tracked. Again, while this is harmless in and of itself, it only scratches the surface of what an actual hacker is capable of. Nearly everyone who uses a computer, tablet, or hand-held device has been the victim of phishing sites. Spyware allows hackers to trace your every move, and Trojans are meant to look like legitimate websites. They have the sole purpose of collecting your personal information. Downloading data has become a dangerous venture, since hackers can program sites to silently install apps that collect your information.
Even though it seems we are helpless to prevent all of this tracking in our modern digital world, it isn’t impossible to do.
Precautions to avoid online tracking
While you can assume you are being tracked, there are a few tips to see the extent of that tracking and protect yourself from further damage.
Most people don’t think of the sweet little Task Manager as a fighter in the battle against tracking personal information. But the truth is that this app will list all the other apps you are currently running on your computer, even the ones you weren’t aware were running. Most times, Task Manager will reveal malware that was stealthily installed when you weren’t looking.
Close all of your windows and leave only your browser open. Enter the word Netstat into your Windows Command and you will be able to see all of the IPs currently receiving information from your computer. From there, you can search the addresses to make sure they are in line with services and sites you are actually using.
Google isn’t the only search engine in the sea, and you may want to consider trading it for another. If you don’t want to abandon Google, you can use the opt-out feature for ads, and get a high-quality ad blocker. Don’t forget the antivirus software while you’re looking for ad blockers.
Use a VPN
A VPN will disguise your IP address and encrypt your information to the point that your own ISP can’t track you. These services are a reliable way to keep your online anonymity. But make sure you choose one that doesn’t keep logs, to keep your activity completely secret. VPNs also offer a way to recover from the rollback of Net Neutrality by bypassing potentially dishonorable acts committed by your ISP.
It’s not easy to fight such huge corporations who are hungry for your info. Your data represents more money to them, meaning they won’t stop these attempst to track you. But fortunately, there are ways to hide your Internet activity. Some of them are quite simple or even cost a few dollars, but in the end, it means having your privacy back.