Tracking users online is one of the biggest goals of many organizations – and even private individuals these days.
There is a lot of value in your personal information, and various parties have an active interest in obtaining it and using it for their own purposes.
Combining your activities across multiple sites is a particularly attractive prospect. And while you might think that it’s impossible to do without the explicit consent of all site owners, that’s not quite true.
Today, there are many different ways to track your presence on the internet, and it’s important to be aware of all of them if you want to stay as safe as possible in your browsing.
It’s More Important Than You Might Think
It’s not just about minor details like what sports teams you like or what sites you visit regularly. Little pieces of information might be relatively harmless on their own, but when put together, they can easily paint a shockingly accurate picture of who you are as a person.
This can be used for various purposes, from technically legitimate ones like marketing to more nefarious ones, like compromising your accounts.
Proxy providers have stepped up their game recently in response to this growing trend, and companies like Smartproxy now offer comprehensive packages aimed at individuals and not just organizations.
But while a proxy is a good start, you need to do a lot more, in the long run, to keep your identity as protected as possible.
Many Techniques Can Be Used to Track You
Your IP address is a common point of interest for attackers but tracking goes beyond that. Companies might use different data points to build their profile.
Some examples include the browser you’re using, your operating system, the extensions you have in your browser – down to their specific versions – and the availability/versions of some content plugins.
It’s actually quite scary how much information a random website has access to regarding your current computer setup. And when you combine that with the fact that you never really know who’s behind those sites, this can become a real problem.
It’s Time to Start Distancing Yourself from Social Media
Social media is a big offender in this too. Have you noticed how many sites have a conveniently placed Facebook “like” button under their articles, or integrate Facebook comments? If you’re logged in to Facebook when opening a site like that, Facebook knows you’ve just been there.
And what they do with that information from there is impossible to tell, despite the many claims the company might make. It’s not far-fetched to assume that they might be selling that information to third parties, who can then connect the dots about who you really are.
Technical Approaches to Evasion
There are some things you can do to keep yourself concealed to a reasonable extent.
As we mentioned above, a proxy is a good start. But you can – and should – do much more than that if you want to stay as safe as possible. Change your browser from time to time – don’t just use a specific browser for certain sites, but actually mix things up a bit.
Keep yourself logged out of social media unless you actually need to use it for a specific reason. Use browser extensions that mask your user agent. You can even use a secondary operating system when working with more sensitive data.
Nowadays, it’s easy to set up a computer to let you pick which one you want to boot into, and this can be done in seconds on a modern machine. You could even use a virtual machine to speed things up at the cost of some performance.
You Can’t Really Be Sure What’s Going On
But no matter what you do to keep your identity concealed, the important thing to remember is that you never really have a guarantee about what’s going on with your data, and who has access to it.
Many companies have extensive terms of service that seem like they’re showing you the big picture – but have you actually sat down to read through one of those documents in full? Most people never do that.
And you never know if somewhere in there, you might find a clause explaining that you are giving them permission to exploit your data for various purposes that you will likely not be okay with.
This has even led to the creation of entire sites dedicated to helping you understand popular services’ terms in a more condensed manner, but you still risk missing out on some things by using those.
It’s time to understand those big companies are not your friends. The fact that they provide their services for free shouldn’t be a sign of positivity – it’s actually the exact opposite. You need to think about why they might be doing that, and what they stand to gain from it.
In many cases, there’s something else going on that you aren’t aware of. You have to stay vigilant at all times if you want to keep yourself as safe as possible online. Because this is just the beginning – we’re likely going to see much more in the future.