We like to think our online browsing is just between us and our screens, but it really isn’t.
Every single website you access has a way of tracking how you interact with it, and – to a certain extent – what you do online. In fact, according to data, 79% of websites worldwide track you.
That violates your privacy, and also makes it easy for advertisers to spam you with annoying ads everywhere you go on the Internet.
Don’t worry, though – I’ll show you exactly how websites track you, and what you can do to protect your online privacy.
4 Ways Websites Track You Online
There are more ways than the ones I’ll discuss here, but these methods are some of the most popular and efficient ones. So, here’s what websites normally use to keep tabs on what you do online:
1. Your IP Address
Your IP address is one of the first things a website sees when you send connection requests its way. It’s a basic way of identifying you online, but it works.
After all, your IP address reveals quite a lot of sensitive data about you, like:
*What country and city you live in.
*What your ZIP code is
*Who your ISP is.
True, this is not enough to find your physical address, but it is enough data to tell you apart from the other website visitors. And it’s definitely enough information to spam you with “relevant” ads that try to appeal to you by mentioning your location, which is – overall – just a creepy tactic.
2. Cookies, Scripts, & “Super Cookies”
However, many websites also have third-party cookies, which advertisers use to track your online browsing.
Not only that, but they might also use tracking scripts like Google Analytics. They’re useful for website owners, but they also tend to log too much data about how you interact with a website.
And while you can delete regular cookies at your discretion, “Super Cookies” earn their name by being next to impossible to get rid of.
Take evercookie, for instance. It splits the data it logs in multiple places. Whenever evercookie detects that you deleted a part of it (let’s say the browser cookie), it automatically repopulates the data you removed with info from other locations (Flash cookies, for example).
3. Browser Fingerprinting
Just like your fingerprint can reveal a lot of data about you to the police, your website’s fingerprint leaks a lot of personal details about you and your device.
It sounds weird, I know, but browser fingerprinting can actually reveal info such as:
*What OS you’re running;
*What browser version you’re using;
*The resolution of your screen;
*The time zone you’re in;
*What fonts you installed.
The list can go on and on, but you get the idea.
And your browser’s fingerprint can be pretty unique, so you’ll stand out. You can check that with this tool.
According to it, my browser has good anti-tracking protection, but its fingerprint is still unique among 196,364 people.
4. HTTP Referrers
An HTTP Referrer is just a simple HTTP header field. But what makes it special is that it allows new requested web pages to see where the incoming traffic originates from.
In other words, by using an HTTP Referrer, a website owner can see what web page you’re coming from. So if you click a link to facebook.com on forbes.com, Facebook will know you’re coming from that website.
Some website owners can even use web bugs – tiny pixels that help them track you with the help of HTTP Referrers.
How to Limit Online Tracking
Having people track everything you do online feels creepy, right?
Well, here are some things you can do to limit how much they can keep tabs on you:
Use a Secure Web Browser
If you use a browser like Google Chrome, Safari, or Opera, you’re making it very easy for websites, advertisers, and especially government surveillance agencies to monitor your digital footprints.
To keep your privacy intact, you need a browser that blocks tracking by default, or at the very least offers you ways to do that yourself.
Need help finding such a browser? No problem – just check this list of our recommended Internet browsers. It’s got all the info you need to pick a solution that will really protect your online privacy.
Use a VPN
VPNs are online services that hide your IP address. So, they’re a good way of getting websites off your digital trail. Better yet, if you use a VPN with hundreds of servers, you can switch between them in seconds to throw them off even more.
Best of all – VPNs also encrypt all your Internet traffic. So, your ISP will no longer be able to see what you do on the web. In fact, not even hackers will manage to track you online – even if you use unsecured WiFi.
Finding a decent solution can be tough since there are so many VPNs on the market. To make things simple, I recommend checking out ExpressVPN and NordVPN first.
Install Privacy-Friendly Extensions
Using a secure browser is nice, but you also need to outfit it with good extensions.
Moreover, HTTPS Everywhere will ensure you don’t get any accidental unencrypted HTTP connections.
As for cookies, you can use Cookie AutoDelete. It likely won’t get rid of Super Cookies, but it will delete most cookies whenever you close a tab, which is pretty cool.