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How to prevent advertisers from tracking you on the Internet

The prevalence of online tracking is becoming increasingly well known. As you browse the Internet, the websites you use constantly collect information about you. This information is mainly used to display relevant advertising.


Online tracking is considered by many to be the price you pay for accessing free web services. But what if you don’t want to be tracked? Is it possible to browse the Internet without providing information about yourself?

Here’s why your information is valuable and what you can do if you want to keep it private.


Why are you being tracked?

Online tracking is done to optimize websites and display targeted advertising.

Improvement

Website optimization is achieved by understanding enough about you to automatically align with your preferences. A website may want to know your location in order to provide relevant content in the language you speak. By understanding the preferences of all website users as a whole, improvements can also be made to the design of a site.

Targeted Advertising

Tracking is used for advertising purposes because it makes ads more effective. As websites collect more information about you, they may display ads that are more relevant. This increases the speed at which you click on them and purchase products and services. The more information websites have about you, the higher they can charge for advertising.

Why is tracking unpopular?

Regardless of what the tracking information is used for, most people don’t like the idea of ​​organizations collecting information about them. While seeing more relevant ads doesn’t really hurt anyone, the idea of ​​such advertisers understanding your behavior and personality is something that makes many people uncomfortable.

There is also the issue of not knowing where this information ends. The information collected is often sold to other parties, and even when it is not, it can potentially be stolen.

How do advertisers follow you?

A person's hand reaching for a stack of cookies

Advertising is the only thing that makes many online services profitable. Tracking makes advertising more effective and is therefore something online services have become very good at.

There is now a wide range of different tracking techniques. Here are some ways you are tracked as you browse the web.

Biscuits

Cookies are small pieces of code that are added to your browser while you are browsing the Internet. Cookies allow websites to understand which websites you have visited before. They are used to keep you connected to online services, but they are also used to understand your behavior in order to deliver more relevant advertisements.

Cookies not only record the sites you visit, but also the particular pages and how you interact with them. Cookies allow advertisers to know which products you have viewed and which terms you have used in a search engine such as Google. This provides a lot of information that can be used to determine what interests and hobbies you have, and then what products to show you.

Browser Fingerprint

A browser fingerprint is made up of all the information your browser provides about you. It includes your device details, such as operating system and screen resolution, and your browser details, such as its version and installed extensions. All of this information varies widely, and therefore it is possible to track an Internet user solely from their fingerprint.

URL trackers

URL trackers are used to identify how you arrived at a particular website. They are included in the links on the website and direct you to specific pages. They are often used to measure the effectiveness of individual advertising campaigns. By dividing users based on which ad campaign they clicked on, it’s possible to understand which campaigns are driving sales.

How to prevent advertisers from tracking you

using your fingerprint fingerprint

Most tracking techniques are easy to understand, so it is possible to prevent tracking by changing the way you browse the web.

Clear your cookies regularly

All browsers allow you to delete your cookies. This prevents most tracking attempts, but is not always convenient. Cookies are used to keep you logged in to your accounts and once deleted you will need to log in again. To prevent this, you should review all saved cookies and only delete those you don’t need.

Use a browser that blocks some cookies

Many browsers now include settings that allow you to decide which cookies are stored on your device. The easiest option is to prevent all third-party cookies from being saved. This will automatically allow necessary cookies to be stored and prevent all others. Depending on the browser, you can also only allow cookies from particular websites.

Use a browser extension that prevents fingerprinting

Browser fingerprinting is an increasingly well-known problem and there are now many browser extensions that aim to address it. Privacy Badger is ideal for this purpose and is available for most browsers.

Does a VPN prevent tracking?

VPNs are often associated with anonymity, but they cannot prevent tracking by advertisers.

VPNs are designed to encrypt your Internet traffic and hide your IP address. Encrypting your Internet traffic hides your Internet activity from your ISP and prevents Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks. It does not prevent tracking by advertisers.

Hiding your IP address can prevent tracking in some cases. If someone tries to track you based on your IP, a VPN obviously prevents that. Advertisers, however, rarely use this method. Cookies are more effective and allow advertisers to track you no matter where you are.

In general, VPNs are a useful tool, but not an effective way to hide from advertisers.

Online tracking is powerful but preventable

A small amount of tracking is required for the websites to function as intended. However, many websites collect much more information than this. The purpose is not to make sites easier to use, but to increase advertising revenue at the cost of user privacy.

Targeted advertising is not necessarily harmful. However, if you want to browse the web without being tracked, the main techniques are to delete cookies and modify your browser’s fingerprint to the extent that it is no longer unique.

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