GlobalSign Blog

15 Jun 2018

What Data Is Collected About You Online and How to Stop It

When browsing the internet, you leave behind digital traces that websites can legally use to keep track of your activities and identify you. The data collected can include; your location, what device you’re using, which advertisements you’ve clicked on, and more.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…

What Your Browser Reveals About You

No matter what the privacy settings of your browser are, certain information about you is inevitably revealed to the sites you visit. For example, you start sharing your IP address as soon as you go online, which can be used to pinpoint your approximate location.

Your browser also reveals its name, allowing sites to know whether you’re a Firefox, Explorer, or Chrome user. It even goes as far as showing the current battery level if you’re online from a phone, tablet, or laptop.

Other information revealed by your browser includes: which operating system you’re running, what CPU and GPU are you using, the screen resolution and the browser plugins you’ve installed. If you want to see all the data your browser knows about you, visit Webkay and you’ll find all the information sites can access about you without your explicit permission.

What Your Browser Reveals About You

Sites can also watch your every move when you visit them, but have you wondered to what extent? To see what kind of tracking is done, open up Click, which tracks; your mouse clicks, mouse movements, and any other browser actions!

click tracking

Browser fingerprinting is another method used by sites to identify users even if they don’t enter any personally identifiable information (PII). It involves tracking and detecting the configuration and settings information that browsers make visible.

Since it’s highly improbable that someone else is using your very own special combination of screen size, hardware, browser plugins, browser software, and so on – sites can easily guess whether or not you’re the same lad who dropped by last month and serve you some relevant advertisements. Panopticlick can tell if your browser is safe against this type of tracking.

test your browser

Now, moving on to the information sites harvest themselves…

What Information Can Websites Collect?

It’s no secret that sites want to know as much as possible about their visitors, whether it’s to show them targeted ads or improve their user experience. For this, they make use of cookies which are small text files placed on your system when you visit a site for the first time.

Cookies tell a site when a user has returned and also hold your site preferences for your next visit. This is exactly how sites remember your shopping basket as you browse for other items that you’d like to purchase.

While this is useful for both users and site owners, it’s worth mentioning that not all cookies are safe for munching. Sure, sites can only access the cookies they’ve placed, but we also have what are known as third-party cookies!

browser cookies

As the name implies, these cookies are placed by a site other than the one you’re visiting. They’re mostly used by marketers or advertisers to track your browsing activities across multiple sites and serve you tailored ads, so you’re better off deleting cookies when you finish browsing.

Internet providers, which can now legally collect and sell your browsing history without your authorization, also let advertisers know;

  • who you are,
  • where you’ve been,
  • who you’ve been talking to and
  • what you’re interested in.

All these pieces of information are tied together to create a very detailed profile about you, and it only gets more detailed…

What Other Data Do You Give Away Voluntarily?

Every day you give away so much of your data willingly. Examples include;

  • the searches you make on Google,
  • the places you check into on Facebook and
  • the posts you share on Twitter (unless your profile is private and not public).

These services have privacy policies in place that explain how this data is used – typically to improve the products and services or show you relevant advertising and users are required to consent to this data collection if they wish to use them.

So, if you sign up for Facebook, you’re giving the social media giant permission to see everything that you do on their network. Add this data to the information that’s already been collected from your browsing activities, and the big internet companies know a lot more about you than you realize.

surveillance camera

The privacy policies of these services are easily accessible, but they’re usually written in broad terms and offer insufficient guidance, which gives them greater leeway for how they handle the data they’ve collected on you.

Four Simple Ways to Prevent Getting Tracked Online

Though it has become harder to control what information you’re revealing to sites every time you hop on the internet, there are some steps that can be taken to prevent getting tracked online. Without further ado, here it goes:

1. Surf Anonymously Online

If sites can’t see you, they can’t really track you and this is exactly where anonymous surfing can be useful. There are many ways to surf anonymously online, but proxy services and virtual private networks (VPNs) are among the most popular as they hide your IP address – your unique identifier on the internet.

2. Delete Third-Party Cookies

You should block or delete all third-party cookies to put an end to some of this tracking. This can be done by delving into your browser’s settings, or by using cleanup tools like CCleaner which deletes all cookies by default!

3. Use Privacy Extensions/Add-Ons

Since your browser leaks information to sites that can be used to track or identify you, using a privacy-focused extension or add-on should stop that from happening. I’d recommend trying HTTPS Everywhere (encrypts your communications with sites) and Privacy Badger (blocks invisible trackers, spying ads, third-party cookies, and browser fingerprinting).

4. Privatize Your Searches

Use a search engine that doesn’t track you and keeps your searches private, such as DuckDuckGo. Your personal information isn’t collected or shared with anybody – it doesn’t even log your IP address or use cookies to begin with!

Wrapping Things Up

As you can see, it’s extremely important to be conscious of what information you’re giving away and limit or stop it wherever possible. If you have any questions or anything you’d to add, feel free to use the comments section below!

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