Many of us know that we need to keep away from trackers, whether we do or don’t exactly understand what they are how they act. This is because many entities that defend online privacy advise us to stay away from them, as they might affect our privacy.
Let’s see what they are, how they work and how we can keep them away.
What is tracking?
It is always our choice what we post, for instance, on the social media platforms. Also, it might seem to be our choice, too, what websites we visit to look for things that we might need or want. But it is not at all that way.
According to a Ghostery Study, more than ”79% of websites globally” were tracking users’ personal information, back in 2017. But things have evolved since then. Tracking means collecting data about the users regarding the use or interaction with particular web pages.
Trackers collect more than the browsing of websites. They can get details such as the IP address, the geographic location and browser’s settings.
The naughty ways of tracking
Cookies are small files that websites use in order to recognize users that return on its pages. In order to do this, they store users’ settings and preferences, but also log-in data. These are the good cookies, that offer a better browsing experience.
Using this kind of cookies, websites can remember user names and passwords, language options, custom settings and if there was any item left in the shopping cart.
But these cookies also come with a dangerous secret: websites use them to store your data.
Still, fingereprinting overcomes cookies. This represents another method websites use for tracking. This seems to be even more dangerous, as it is also more complex.
There is an important difference between cookies and fingerprinting. While, cookies store files on users’ browser, fingerprinting is checking the browser settings to recognize users.
By using this method, websites can also identify many different things, such as the OS of the user or the browser version.
But things trackers do not stop here. Tracking beacons represent the third method, that seems to be even scarier. They are very small – usually 1 x 1 pixel, transparent images that load on websites or inside emails.
Using them, websites know how many times a visitor loads certain pages. Advertisers use them to count the number of impressions for their ads and also provide more customized ads.
Although most of these are clean, spammer can use them in emails. When a user opens the email, it load the beacon. Thus, spammers learn about the active email addresses and send more spam to those.
The battle for and against trackers
These tracking methods bring billions of dollars to the companies that sell their goods using ads and to those that sell the data they collect about users to third parties. So, as a lot of money is involved, websites would not be very happy to give them up.
Still, there is a real struggle between the commercial interests and the users’ privacy. Some browser developers try to gain more of their users’ trust by offering enhanced tracking protection, such as Mozilla.
The company announced that its browser, Firefox, “automatically blocks the most common social media trackers from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and LinkedIn from following you around the internet.”
Vivaldi Technologies also embedded the Startpage search engine in its Vivaldi browser. The company founded by Opera Software co-founder Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner, bets on the privacy and security of its users. Users of the browser with the new search engine should not be afraid of tracking or data sharing. In order to do this, the company pays to Google, in order to use its search results.
Google also announced its intention to block the third-party cookies. Those are created by other domains than those we visit, to track us and remember our behavior. And all these, for advertising purposes.
Still, the best way to get rid of these trackers is using an ad blocker. Ad Guardian Plus filters the code of the pages and thus removes ad images, links and scripts. And this happens even before they reach your browser. This is what no browser extension could do.