Online Tracking And How To Avoid It
Friday, 30 December 2022

Whether you are aware of it or not, most websites routinely gather information about you. How is this done? Should you care that your data harvested in this way and if you object what can you do about it?

It is no secret that websites collect disparate forms of data to monitor visitors’ behavior. So prevalent is this practice that a 2020 survey conducted using DuckDuckGo’s Tracker Radar found that hidden trackers are installed in over 85% of popular websites. According to the survey, Google is by far the highest purveyor of trackers, having installed trackers on about 86% of the top 50,000 websites. Facebook was second at 36.2%. Fortunately, you can prevent online tracking by, among other interventions, implementing a key measure on how to hide IP addresses. 

trackerImage credit: DuckDuckGo 

What is Online Tracking?

Online or website tracking is the collection of different forms of data in order to create a profile of the visitor or monitor their behavior. It is central to website analytics and digital advertising. It is mainly carried out by scripts known as web trackers that are installed, sometimes without the visitor’s consent. 

These trackers collect different types of data, including the following: 

  • IP address

  • Websites you visit

  • Your interactions with each website, i.e., the pages or products you click on, how long a cursor hovers above a particular product or section

  • The browser and device you are using

  • The products you purchase

  • Ads you click on

  • The personal information you give a website, including your name, age, gender, and address

 

How is Online Tracking Done?

There are several tracking technologies, namely: 

  • Cookies

  • Web beacons

  • Fingerprinting 

Cookies generally refer to files that contain a unique identifier for each user and the website’s name. This information is retrieved every time you visit the website, allowing it to recognize your return. On the other hand, a web beacon is a technology used to unobtrusively check whether a visitor has accessed certain content. It is generally a graphic image, one pixel in size. 

Lastly, fingerprinting collects attributes such as the user’s device, browser and version, operating system, time zone, and language. This tracker then coalesces these data points to build a user profile. This resultant visitor’s profile is often unique among hundreds of thousands of similar profiles, hence the word fingerprinting.

Why Should You Care about Online Tracking

The sheer amount of data collected can be a cause for concern. This is especially so, considering the websites are not always forthright about how they intend to use this data. In addition, considering the number of trackers installed on different websites, various companies end up profiling. You, therefore, exist virtually as an avatar that matches you along most of your attributes, including age, location, gender, interests, and potentially other forms of personal data. 

The disadvantage of such avatars is that you do not have control over how they are used. They can be auctioned off as part of larger datasets. A case in point is Facebook, which announced its revenue would drop by $10 million after Apple introduced changes to its privacy policy. In other cases, the data collectors may choose to sell your profile, without anonymizing it, to the highest bidder. This is particularly worrying.

Additionally, this data can land in the hands of malicious individuals as a result of data breaches. And if the data collectors did not anonymize the data, your personal data may be exposed. Again, this can threaten your security.

How to Prevent Online Tracking

Fortunately, you can put an end to this form of profiteering. There are several ways you can achieve this. 

  • Hide IP Address

IP addresses store information about your location that can help websites build a location-based profile. Thus, by hiding your IP address, you can deprive them of this vital data point. This prevents them from creating an accurate avatar. 

There are different approaches how to hide an IP address. Firstly, you can use a proxy server. A proxy is an intermediary that routes internet traffic through itself and assigns all outgoing requests a new IP address. Alternatively, you can use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN encrypts data and transports the encrypted data packets through a secure passage where they exit at an exit server, acquiring a new IP address. Lastly, you can use the Tor browser, which also hides the IP address.

Find more about how to hide an IP address by following the link.

  • Use Privacy-Oriented Browsers

Some browsers, such as DuckDuckGo or Safari, are oriented towards safeguarding the privacy of their users. DuckDuckGo and Safari automatically block trackers from being installed. 

  • User Privacy Browser Extensions and Applications

Alternatively, you can install privacy extensions on your browser as well as privacy applications on your smartphone. These tools help keep your data private by blocking trackers and ads.

  • Change Settings on Browser

You can change the settings on your browser to prevent it from tracking you.

Conclusion

In a bid to monitor their visitors’ behavior, most websites deploy trackers. These trackers collect personal information about each of their browsing sessions, among other unique attributes. The websites then use this data to create profiles. Given that this data can potentially be violated, it is important to implement procedures to hide IP addresses.

 

More Information

How to hide my IP address

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Last Updated ( Friday, 30 December 2022 )