We can’t even count the number of times we have been asked how to protect our privacy in a world where every action is tracked online. Have you ever looked at a product on Amazon and then noticed it was being advertised to you on other websites? That is internet tracking at work. In fact, Google is so good at what they do now that they can even track your offline purchases back to you! Now that’s impressive. So what can you do about it? We’ll lay out a few options from basic to more advanced. And we’ll even toss in an “untrackable” one for good measure.
First and foremost, it’s important to know what is going on here. When you visit a website, different “trackers” (you can read more about them from the link) load up to let these websites keep tabs on who is visiting them. This can be useful for companies to know how many unique visitors they have and if any visitors keep coming back. When this information starts getting combined from multiple websites, a profile can be built to provide insight into your internet browsing habbits. Google (there are other groups doing this but Google is by far the biggest and most advanced, so we’ll stick with them for our examples) sees that you are looking at different websites for particular items and uses its knowledge to start advertising these items to you elsewhere in hopes you buy them.
Privacy by Stopping the Trackers
So what can you do about it? Great news! There are a lot of developers who don’t want to be tracked all the time too. These developers created extensions you can add to your browser in order to help block these trackers. To take advantage of these, however, you will need to be using either Google Chrome or Firefox (not internet explorer). We went ahead and linked both browsers to their extension stores for convienence. Two of the best privacy extensions you can add are called Privacy Badger and Decentraleyes. They work great to cut out trackers without stopping websites from loading. Another great option is an adblocker (adblock plus is the most common). Adblockers stop ads from loading when you visit web pages which also saves you some bandwidth. Some websites will not work with adblockers however and you will need to turn the block off for that specific site.
Tell Google You Want Privacy
If you can tell Google you want privacy, why didn’t we list that first? Good question. Our first option is a “once and done” option. The extensions you installed don’t go away until you remove them. Telling Google you want privacy is a fantastic addition to the extensions but only lasts as long as your internet cookies. If you delete your history or run a cookie clearing program, you’ll need to redo your Google privacy optout again. So how do you tell Google you wait to remain private? Easy! Visit this link on each browser you use and simply opt out of tracking. Remember to redo it if you clear out your cookies.
Privacy Through Anonymity
Ok, this is where things get tricky. And we will start right off with a caution: this is a more advanced method which is not suited for people looking for basic privacy protection. With that said, lets talk a little about useing the internet anonymously through a VPN. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. In essence, you have an encrypted connection to a remote we server which processes information and relays it to you. This means that what you are doing is no longer tied back to you. And don’t worry, since your connection is encrypted, what you are doing is still safe. In fact, it’s actually safer than normal, but we’ll talk about that in a future article. We won’t dig too far here for technical reasons. We will say there are many different VPN services you can use and not all of them are equal or safe. If you are interested in this service, please contact us and let us help you get set up.
A Quick Freebie
Windows 10 is actually a very good operating system. It might take a little getting used to bit it is well worth it. Unfortunately the default settings allow some extra tracking capabilites through Microsoft and your installed apps. If you click on the start menu (the windows icon in the lower left) and then select the gear to open your settings, you’ll see a section for privacy. Typically, we like everything in there turned off but you can customize it based on your needs (for example, if you use facial recognition, your camera will need to be accessible by the recognition app).
Privacy is important for multiple reasons. The extent people desire privacy and the lengths they go will of course be different from person to person. We highly reccomend the first two steps for all people (with or without that adblocker). Not only will they help protect your privacy, they will also actually improve your browsing speeds.
It also goes without saying that there is one thing dedicated 100% to taking your data: malware. If you have malware running on your computer, not only does it go above and beyond to insure you are being tracked, but it can break things and steal passwords. A tune-up is always a good idea and can generally be done in only 1 hour of time by our professional staff to insure you not only are malware free but running at 100% capability as well.
No, we didn’t forget that “untrackable” option. It comes after our final thoughts because it truly is not for everyone. This option is Tor. Tor is a version of Firefox which has been optimized for security. It encrypts your browsing data and then bounces it all over the world through a process known as “onion routing.” It is slower than normal browsing, won’t let you watch most videos or run scripts on websites (you may notice websites appearing a little more bare-bones), but it essentially 100% untrackable. And free which is always good. Again, this really isn’t for everyone but there’s no way we were talking about privacy and not mentioning Tor.