How to Stop Websites from Tracking You EverywhereUpdated: October 02, 2019
Tired and creeped out by how websites track your every move when you go online? Let's talk about how you can stop them!
You might know by now that your online activity is tracked at any step by websites and companies that want to target you with personalized ads.
What you might not be aware of though is how much information is stored regarding your online behavior. Websites know all the details about you, from what devices you're using to connect to the internet and the operating systems to details about your activity such as the places you visited online, the products you've purchased, your interests, and so on.
All this data is brought together in a database to allow advertisers to create a complex profile of your digital identity. Profile that allows them to serve you personalized ads based on your interests and even to predict what products you might need in the future.
Knowing that companies have so much information about who you are, where you've been, and what you like is a bit spooky!
Fortunately, there are ways to limit the amount of data you allow websites to collect about your online activities. And we'll talk about them in this post.
First, let me slightly explain how websites track you so you better understand the action you can take to stop them.
The main method websites use to track users across the internet is through cookies. Cookies are small files stored on your device by the web browser that contains a set of information about your online activity.
Cookies help websites keep track of your activity and remember your visits. They contain information such as the pages you visited and the time of the visit, logging in actions, clicking on buttons, and even information filled in forms (names, addresses, passwords, credit card numbers).
Cookies are essential for a sleek online journey in certain cases. For instance, websites could not remember the items you add to your cart if it weren't for the cookies. Cookies also make it possible for websites to remember your login credentials and to keep you authenticated through multiple sessions.
Tracking or third-party cookies, on the other hand, don't have a useful implication for users, but they serve as a directory of information for advertisers. And advertisers are sneaky, they follow you on most websites you're visiting. If you go to a website that displays an ad, a cookie will be saved by the advertising company. All the websites you visit that show ads from that company will store cookies containing information about your online activity. All the cookies are sent to the company and they'll put the puzzle pieces together and will be able to tell everything you did online.
Tracking cookies are mostly used by advertisers, social media widgets (e.g. Facebook Like and Share buttons), and web analytics. You don't have to click on an ad or like an article for the cookie to be stored, it is stored automatically the moment you access the website that displays them.
Through tracking cookies, advertising companies are not only able to trace your browsing history, but they record all kinds of data such as purchases, search queries, location, how many times you've seen an ad along with when and where, and much more.
In the EU, websites are required by law to be transparent about using tracking cookies but, for the rest of the world, all this snooping is done behind the scenes.
The first step to starting the tracking cleaning process is to delete the cookies that are already stored. You can do so from your web browsers.
If you're not sure how to do it, you can find the answer in the article below:
Before proceeding, be aware that clearing cookies will cause all websites to forget your logins. The browser can't differentiate between authentication cookies and tracking cookies, so it's all or nothing.
In your browser privacy setting, you'll find a "Do Not Track" option. Turning it on will send a request to websites to not collect your browsing data. This will only change so much. Websites are not obligated to respect your request so many of them won't. According to Google:
"However, what happens to your data depends on how a website responds to the request. Many websites will still collect and use your browsing data to improve security, provide content, services, ads and recommendations on their websites, and generate reporting statistics.
Most websites and web services, including Google's, don't change their behavior when they receive a Do Not Track request. Chrome doesn't provide details of which websites and web services respect Do Not Track requests and how websites interpret them."
Even if this doesn't guarantee your privacy from advertising tracking, you should still turn it on. It's a slightly little change, but it's a step in the right direction.
An easy (and free) way to stop tracking cookies is to install an anti-tracking extension to your browser.
Privacy badger is one of the bests in the industry and it's been developed by Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization actively implicated in online privacy and security. Privacy badger is an add-on that blocks third-party trackers from recording your online activity. It works by keeping track of the websites you go on and, if it notices that an advertising company tracks you across multiple websites, it automatically blocks that advertiser from loading more content in your browser.
Disconnect is another browser extension designed for privacy. Their free basic tool black major third-party companies from tracking the websites you visit by automatically detecting if your browsers connect to anything than the website you're visiting. All you have to do is install the extension and it will run in the background with the default settings. You are able to block or unblock third party requests in your toolbar view either individually or by categories (advertising, analytics, social).
Adblock Plus is one of the most downloaded browser extensions because it stops websites from displaying intrusive ads. If you are annoyed by those ads that pop up from nowhere, you'll love AdBlock Plus. Unlike the other tools, AdBlock plus specializes in blocking intrusive ads so users can have a sleek web experience. It does have a list of known entities that use tracking and stops them from tracking you. It also has the feature to stop social media icons tracking. Still, to block tracking cookies from all sources, you should use it in conjunction with Privacy Badger or Disconnect.
Avast AntiTrack is a paid solution that works by either blocking advertisers trackers when it detects them and by giving tracking cookies false information and creating an alternative profile to mask your real digital footprint. It automatically wipes your browsing history clean when you're done with the session so your activity stays private. Avast AntiTrack also acts as an ad-blocker without breaking the webpages or triggering warnings.
You must've heard about the incognito or private mode. What do you do when you're searching for something that you don't want others to find about later through your browsing history? - You go incognito.
Most users turn to the incognito mode thinking it will offer them privacy online. While the incognito mode stops your browser from storing cookies and browsing history, there's a lot of information that's still visible such as your IP address. So it, alone, can only stop websites from tracking you to some extent, which is far from what we want.
You can read more about what the incognito mode actually hides in our dedicated guide:
VPN is a crucial piece in the online privacy puzzle.
With a VPN, your internet connection is routed through a remote server so your real location and IP address are hidden from the websites you visit. The VPN client gives you various servers location to choose from. Let's say you are in the US and connect to a VPN server located in Italy. when you access a website, the website will see the request as coming from Italy and will have no idea you are actually located in the US.
Using a VPN will also prevent your internet service provider (ISP) from tracking your online activity. The ISP will see that you are connected to the VPN server but, from there, they cannot see what you do online, what websites you visit, and the files you download.
VPNs benefits don't stop at hiding your IP address. The VPN client also encrypts all your internet traffic, making it impossible for snoopers to see your online activity even you should get hacked. This is extremely useful when you're using a public WiFi network, where the risk of your connection being intercepted is high.
Even though a VPN goes a long way when it comes to online privacy, you should be aware that it doesn't do it all. It disguises your location, encrypts your connecting, and protects you on public WiFi, but advertisers are still able to track you based on your device and browser settings.
All of the solutions we talked about in this post limit how much you're being tracked by advertisers, analytics, and social media platforms in their ways.
If you want to make your online activity untrackable, you must see them as pieces of a puzzle rather than searching for a perfect solution to do it all.
- Clearing out your cookies
- Anti-tracking app
- Ad-blocker app
- Incognito mode
Becoming entirely untrackable is a complex job, browser fingerprinting making it trickier than ever.
Reference: browser fingerprinting