Online tracking: how you can reduce and stop being tracked

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We’ve spoken about the tracking that happens in the background while you are surfing the web a couple of times this year. The most recent incident, involving the sites of the US presidential candidates has brought the issue back into stark relief.

For many this has no relevance as it happens “secretly”; you don’t even know about it. Having worked for an online advertising company in the past, I was amazed to learn what actually can be done with Adware, spyware, malware and the rest of the “ware’s”. In some cases it almost seemed criminal.

Tracking software is basically used to track what a specific user is doing on the web. Websites and links you click (even hover over!) or search are tracked with your specific location and interests in mind. Then advertisements, targeted at you, are delivered to you. Even Facebook, with Facebook Exchange, lets its approved partners show you ads for products that you “ALMOST” bought on their websites — the moment you return to Facebook. Even though you did not buy it, you still showed interest, and that is enough for the advertisers. Because as most people in business will tell you, advertising and selling make the world go round.

While most of this tracking is quite harmless, it does pose the question of how private our lives really are. If you think about it, it’s no different really from flyers that gets left in your post box at home or on your car window. But where the line is crossed for many is that it is done behind your back without your consent. You have no clue it is happening.

While it is impossible to completely avoid this type of tracking and the ads that come with it, you can reduce them significantly in various ways. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a consumer privacy advocacy group, has put together a list of things you can do to stop or reduce online tracking. Just applying one of them won’t work, but taking the time step by step will greatly, almost completely, reduce tracking on your private computer.

Install an ad blocker with extras

Ad Block Plus is a free extension for Chrome, Firefox and IE9. Simply put according to its name, it blocks ads. But it can be extended to block a variety of trackers as well.

Change your cookie settings
Changing your browser’s cookies settings is your second layer of protection. Sites you visit will then be prevented from adding small bits of code that collect information about the sites you visit. Google Chrome and Firefox both have very good settings for this.

Block Referrers
Installing Referrer Control allows you to turn off the referrers mechanism. This is turned off by default in browsers and allows personal information to be released to websites.

Install HTTPS Everywhere
HTTPS Everywhere maximizes your use of HTTPS to ensure that your private conversations or interactions with websites are… well private. No snooping from other websites.

Many web browsers have setting that can help with keeping your surfing private. Chrome’s “incognito mode” is probably the most well-known example of this.

There are still however some things that will slip through. Following these steps will reduce the flood to a few small drops.

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