But what exactly are trackers? And how do you go about stopping them to create a more secure, worry-free internet experience?
What are Internet Trackers?
Tracking technologies – usually owned/developed by advertising and marketing firms and government agencies, among other authorities – are utilized to monitor visitor-based data for the purpose of establishing analytics and bolstering focused advertising campaigns.
In other words, trackers are used to better understand individual users based on their profiles (more on that later) and behaviours, including interests and how they interact with websites.
To achieve this, trackers, such as cookies or tracking pixels, are placed into a website’s coding, with the site owner having agreed to sell their visitors’ data to advertisers in exchange for a service provided by the advertiser.
Why are Website Visitors Tracked?
Because of the anonymous, out-of-sight way that trackers generally operate, many internet users tend to become indifferent to the practise as they browse the internet, preferring to instead concentrate on their daily work and lifestyle activities.
The unfortunate reality, however, is that a visitor’s data can be shared with several dozen third parties once trackers have been embedded.
While certain tracker policy information can be found on a website’s data privacy agreement, visitors can be left in the dark as to who is tracking them, the reason/s, and how long their data will be stored.
Analytics & Advertising Data
Typically speaking, the reason visitors are tracked online is for the purpose of providing the advertising/governmental/monitoring authority with:
Analytics Data – So that website admins can collect information about how visitors interact with their content; by examining the data, they will be able the optimize the layout of their content, such as copy, buttons and imagery, based on how visitors use their site, and what other sites they visit
Advertising Data – So that website admins can place user-targeted ads, which can be a highly lucrative eCommerce practise, throughout their content; this can be especially profitable if visitors are targeted with ads for similar products/services, or ones that remind them to buy something they’ve already spotted on a different site
What Info Do Trackers Collect?
There is a widespread misconception that trackers aren’t really too much of an issue since they only track browsing activity. This couldn’t be further from the truth, however, as many websites collect a great deal more about their customer base, including:
IP Addresses: By tracking a visitor’s IP Address – the long string of numbers and dots assigned to their browsing device – this record can be used to approximate their geographical location, meaning the visitor can be better recognized when they return to previously visited sites
Personal Info: Bear in mind that any information entered by a visitor, including name, age, gender and address, can be stored and used alongside the visitor’s browsing habits (see below) to establish a more extensive customer profile
Browsing Habits: As we previously touched on above, in order to better understand an audience and establish advertising profiles, trackers monitor and keep records of visitors’ browsing habits, including websites visited, how long they spent there, and what they purchased
What is Tracker Profiling?
Tracker profiling refers to when a person’s data is used by a tracking entity – be it a tech giant, government agency or other authority – to create a profile based on your online behaviours and identity.
Profiles can be constructed from vast advertising/national security databases using a whole range of collected information, including name, address, age, gender, browsing and purchasing habits, physical locations, and even political stances.
Once a visitor’s profile has been created, they can be categorized and added to a group with similar traits; and once sold to a third party, their profile can be used as part of a more acutely targeted ad campaign, or, in the case of governments, to carry out more scrutinized monitoring practises.
Is Internet Tracking Harmful?
One of the questions internet users should be asking themselves is whether they are comfortable living in a world where the privacy of personal info and identity appears to be shrinking – and worst of all, is increasingly tolerated or met with apathy or indifference.
Is it acceptable for a person’s online world to be monitored as they browse online, all so that governments can keep a closer eye on them (with the potential to share that data with other nations), and so that eCommerce sites and advertising affiliates can turn huge profits?
And what actually happens to all that stored data – effectively left dormant – on countless servers across the world? How secure is that data, which could become – and already has been shown to be in the recent past – a massive target for hackers?
How to Stop Internet Tracking
If you would like to take back control of your online privacy and safeguard your priceless data from being monitored and recorded by governments and advertisers, consider optimizing your online experience by implementing the following tools:
VPNs/Anti-Virus Suites. With a VPN (virtual private network) activated, your browsing activities and IP address will become encrypted, meaning the highest levels of data privacy and anonymity can be achieved. As always, coupling a VPN with an anti-virus suite is recommended; just be sure to sign up for both with a reputable cyber security company
Ad/Tracker Blockers. If you want to be rid of trackers, along with invasive, screen-cluttering ads, tracker blockers can prevent your browser from collecting info that you’d rather keep private; remember that many antivirus providers also offer their own tracker blockers in the form of browser extensions
Private Search Engines. With search engines tracking massive volumes of traffic – Google alone tracks half of all worldwide traffic – less snoopy varieties were bound to pop up sooner or later; for anonymous, tracker-free browsing, try using a private search engine such as DuckDuckGo
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