Can I Avoid Being Tracked?

web tracking

Can I Avoid Being Tracked?

Web tracking is an activity carried out by pretty much every website you have ever visited. It is used as a means of collecting information about visitors to their site and the interactions carried out on the site. A study conducted by the owners of the browser security extension Ghostery found that 79% of websites contain some form of tracker and collects user data.

15% of all page loads on the internet are monitored by 10 or more trackers.

The most common method used to collect and track user data is through the use of cookies. When you visit a website a small piece of data is saved to your web browser, this is a cookie. It is used to identify you and stores information such as custom preferences and login details.

Tracking is also carried out through the use of Browser Fingerprinting. Browser Fingerprinting collects comprehensive amounts of data from the browser. This information can include location, time zone, language, screen size, preferences, operating system, version, browser type, fonts, plug-ins, and even hardware configurations, all of this data may sound meaningless when on its own but when put together it can hold great meaning. In reality only one in several million other people will have exactly the same specifications as you, therefore making that data personally identifiable only to you.

Web Beacons are also used as a means of tracking and gathering user data from browsers, they are tiny often invisible elements embedded into a webpage or an email. Beacons download as an image loads on a webpage or when an email is opened and a call for the image to a remote server is made. The server can then alert the sender of the beacon that their email has been opened or webpage has been visited.

Why Is Tracking Used?

Tracking is used to collect user data as this data contains insights into websites desired functionality, site analytics and allows for companies and businesses to create personalised advertising and targeted marketing techniques. However, tracking is not a necessity. It has become the norm for sites to collect our data and to collect as much as possible in the hope that they will have a use for it in the future.

The problem with tracking is we have no control over who sees the data or where this data can go. The information obtained from the user’s browser and every single web interaction is tracked, stored and analysed. It is even freely distributed among third parties for others to analyse, store and action, so who knows where our data could end up?

Another issue present with web tracking is that we are led to believe that it is anonymous.  But, using data collected from the user’s browser it is highly possible for a tracker to de anonymize a user by algorithmically exploiting similarities between a user’s browsing history, online interactions and social media profiles.

Can I Stop It?

You can’t stop getting tracked completely but you can put measures in place to control what data websites and their third parties can and cannot see.

Sites often ask you when visiting if you are happy with them gathering this data, however this is often in one or two ways. They can ask you outright if they can store cookies in your browser or they can ask you exactly what data they can take from you. It is now a legal requirement for sites to ask you this so be wary when you come across one that doesn’t!

Plug-Ins and Extensions can be downloaded into your main browser. They can be configured to your specifications to keep trackers from collecting your data from your browser. It can prevent trackers from using cookies and browser fingerprinting to track web movements and browsing history. Additionally, they help to prevent the presentation of ads that contain tracking scripts and beacons from loading on the webpage.

Ghostery is a tracker block extension available on most browsers.

Another option is to use your browsers in built ‘do not track’ function. Most browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari have this feature available in the settings. However, this only means that your browser will send a request to the site asking not to track you but websites are not required to honour this so the chances are you’re going to be tracked anyway.

There is no way to guarantee that you won’t be tracked and your data won’t be stored and used in the future but on the plus side, that’s what keeps sites free to use and how you end up seeing personalised content and ads on the sites you frequently visit.