How to Avoid Being Tracked Online
Even if you browse the Web “incognito”, install anti-tracking toolbars, and enable strict privacy settings in your web browser, there is a good chance that you are still being tracked. In fact, it is almost certain. Today, most Internet users accept that tracking is now a part of going online. Behavioral marketers assert that consumers, on the whole, forgive the intrusion on their privacy from trackers and ad networks in exchange for discounts, more relevant ads, and other benefits. However, Joseph Turow, a University of Pennsylvania scholar, conducted a study that challenged this premise. Turow co-authored The Tradeoff Fallacy, with the counterclaim that most Americans are resigned to giving up their data only because they feel powerless to manage what companies are learning about them. The report presents several key findings based on a survey of more than 1,500 Americans. For instance, 91% disagreed with the statement, “If companies give me a discount, it is a fair exchange for them to collect information about me without my knowing”. The report also notes that a majority of U.S. consumers are unaware of how their data is sold or shared with third parties.
Even if everything we do online leaves a trail, there are ways to guard against being tracked online. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently published an article on how we can evade trackers. Inquirer Business Columnist Jeff Gelles recommends downloading a browser extension like Ghostery, which tracks the trackers and tells you who is watching what you do online. Other add-ons like PrivacyFix, or Do Not Track Plus also show you who is tracking you on any given website and can be set up to block tracking. Gabriel Weinberg also recommends Ghostery. As the founder of DuckDuckGo, a company that offers tracking-free Internet search, Weinberg is an advocate for Internet privacy.
Using search engines like DuckDuckGo is another way to keep your searches private. Unfortunately, using Microsoft’s Do Not Track setting or the Incognito setting in Google are not necessarily the most effective. Consider that they typically let the website decide whether or not they will honor a “Do Not Track” request.
Are you in the habit of giving privacy policies and Terms of Services agreements a cursory glance before clicking the Accept button? You might want to start taking the time to read them, especially for websites that you give your information to. But don’t forget about your mobile phone apps! Before you download Instagram or Angry Birds, read the agreement to see just what you are giving them access to. Some apps will track your location, download all of your phone contacts, or even get access to your camera. Get alerts when apps and websites gain access to your information by using MyPermissions, an easy way to manage app access to your online accounts.
Variability is another aspect of evading trackers. We recommend creating several email addresses for different things in your life, for work, for personal life, and for shopping and promotions. If you don’t like the idea of managing multiple email accounts, consider using an email cloaking service that lets you send and receive emails with your normal inbox while keeping the real email address a secret. Gliph is a free service that also offers multi-platform secure messaging with data encryption and privacy features.
Another way that companies track you is through cookies. Browsers keep cookies until they expire, which in the case for tracking cookies, could be years. Thus, it is important to clear out the cookies and cache in the browsers you use on a regular basis. You may find cookies to be helpful because they store usernames, passwords, and preferences. Use Passpack or LastPass instead to keep track of your passwords.
When accessing the Internet through a public WiFi connection, be sure to encrypt your connection. Tor, for instance, can be used to keep websites from tracking you and allows you to share information over public networks without compromising privacy.
If you are looking for a way to proactively remove your personal information from leading data sites and marketing databases, use a service like DeleteMe or Safe Shepherd to remove your public listings from the Internet. Until we achieve transparency and corporate openness, the above suggestions are some of the best ways to evade trackers online.