Tracking: Up your online privacy

We spend most of our days online. Whether browsing the web or chatting to friends via instant messaging apps, chances are you’re connected sometime during your day. But the world of connectivity can be a curious place, especially when it comes to privacy. With millions of advertisers and service providers itching to get their hands on your personal info, internet privacy is now more important than ever. So, can you ensure that your personal info and browsing habits are kept under wraps? These simple tips and settings could make your online footprint a little less public…

tracking

WHAT IS TRACKING?

Tracking is the simple act of keeping tabs on all your personal info, data and browsing habits. This means a website can learn exactly what you like and dislike by tracking what you click on and the way in which you use various sites. If you’ve ever come across an ad on Facebook or Gmail that seems like it’s directly targeted at you, that’s a result of tracking.

Not-so-delicious Cookies

Cookies: you’ve probably seen this word pop up in online warnings and notices. And no, they’re not the delicious crunchy sort with chocolate chip centres. Instead, cookies refer to a background activity that runs while you’re browsing various websites. These cookies save data relating to your browsing preferences such as login details, online shopping cart information, user preferences for a specific site and more. Cookies are saved to your computer’s hard drive. Whenever you revisit a site, your hard drive sends this stored info to the webpage so it can upload all your personalised settings.

  • First-party cookies

These cookies only use your personal information to improve on their service. An example of this would be offering special deals to repeat visitors to a site or enabling you to login without having to enter your details each time you visit.

  • Third-party cookies

These are the bad kind. By accessing your browser history, these cookies take the info you provide and sell it to advertisers. You’ll likely soon start to receive countless ads from companies or services related to things you’ve searched for in the past.

Fingerprinting

Some tracking programs collect data about the physical computer or device you are using to access the web. These programs usually collect seemingly harmless things like your local time, language settings and fonts and software installed on the system. The program then creates a unique ID (or fingerprint) based on this data. Fingerprinting is fast replacing cookies as it’s harder for users to block fingerprinting.

PREVENTION

There are several ways to prevent third parties from getting their hands on information relating to your browsing habits. It starts with being more aware of what you’re doing online and how you’re doing it.

Mobile Apps

We’ve all done it – grabbed our phone and downloaded various apps to make our lives simpler or add fun. But from gaming apps to basic apps used for work-related tasks, chances are you’re being tracked through them. Thankfully, you can control this by simply adjusting a few settings on your phone.

Laptops and PCs

If you’re not too proficient with computer settings, this is the perfect time to learn the basics. Here are three simple things you can do to prevent online tracking on your computer or laptop:

  1. Install an ad blocker. Not only does an ad blocker prevent ads from collecting your personal data, but it also eliminates unsolicited, annoying and distracting pop-up ads.
  2. Change your cookie settings. If you stick with the default cookie settings, those cookies will remain on your computer forever. By enabling cookies to expire the moment you close your browser, you ensure your system is wiped of all cookies after every internet session.
  1. Go incognito. Every browser (whether it’s Chrome, FireFox or Safari) allows you to browse anonymously, meaning none of your browsing activities are saved – you’re essentially an online ghost. Use these links:

If you’re more serious about online privacy, you can invest in a reputable Virtual Private Network (VPN) solution or make use of select browsers with enhanced privacy capabilities.

Watch Sunday’s story on tracking here.

Sources: Microsoft, Google Chrome, Mozilla