How to avoid being tracked online by tech companies

As human beings, our privacy (including how to avoid being tracked online) and personal boundaries are inexplicably linked to our human dignity, our independence and our freedom. Privacy and the ability to decide who to let in and when, is critical to being able to be separate from others and to maintain self-determination.

There has been a lot of news coverage with the ‘Big Tech Antitrust Hearing’ happening in the USA. The whole hearing is really about whether we as consumers can trust big tech companies. Trust is the foundation of all lasting and healthy relationships. Without trust there can be no progress. Perhaps the big tech companies, in order to earn our trust, should be the one’s telling us how to avoid being tracked online?

We have put together a guide on how to avoid being tracked online in light of all the information that has come out about these tech companies and their anti-trust practices.

The disappointing realisation from the efforts of the US government to begin regulating these tech companies is that they too are under scrutiny for tracking their citizens (see the PRISM program for more information). If it is happening in one nation, it is happening in others too. So, it seems, we need to take responsibility for ourselves to avoid being tracked online while surfing the internet and we ‘trust’ that this guide will assist you in your efforts to do just that.

Just remember, that although these tactics will go a long way to keeping the spies at bay, nothing is ever 100% full proof (our little disclaimer).

How to avoid being tracked online by tech companies
We have a right to online dignity

Is it true I need to avoid being tracked online through my computer’s camera?

Sad, but true. Hackers can gain access to your camera through the internet and watch every move you make in front of that little lens. It is possible that you may notice this happening by the little camera light switching on unexpectedly but, that is not always the case. There are techniques that hackers use to avoid being detected. So, when you are not using your laptop to surf the internet, then close it, disconnect it from the internet or place one of those small round stickers over the lens when not in use to avoid being tracked online through your camera.

Avoid being tracked online through your computer’s camera
Avoid being tracked online through your computer’s camera

Just when you thought cookies gave you a warm, comforting feeling?

Remember Hansel and Gretel? In the story, Hansel and Gretel leave behind breadcrumbs so that they can find their way home again after their perilous journey. Unfortunately, the breadcrumbs get eaten by birds, so they could no longer find their way back home.

Similarly, when browsing the internet using a search engine, the websites you visit leave behind cookies on your computer like the trail of breadcrumbs in Hansel and Gretel. The cookies then keep track of everything you do, from where you shop online, to the articles you are reading on the internet, to the links you are clicking on. They find their way back to your IP address, which is like your home address on the internet.

These cookies are also what allow you to seamlessly login to your most recently visited accounts without having to enter your username and password. Cookie anyone?

The websites you visit leave behind cookies on your computer
The websites you visit leave behind cookies on your computer

Like the birds, you can avoid being tracked online.

One way on how to avoid being tracked online through cookie detection is to clear out your internet browsing history after each session as well as set your browsing options to private. You can also use a website called CCleaner to delete those hard-to-reach cookie ‘crumbs’ from your internet browsing history and so be extra safe.

Also, don’t rely on internet web browsers to keep a record of your usernames and passwords and to keep your information safe. Read our article on how to create a strong password for increased security measures and internet password management.

Another way you can avoid being tracked online is to use alternative internet search engines like StartPage or DuckDuckGo. These search engines allow you to browse the internet without worrying about them tracking you.

Next, you can use a tool called Tor which scrambles your IP address thereby masking your online ‘residential’ address making it difficult for any website to track you. The Tor VPN is even used by Edward Snowden. Need we say more?

Clear your browsing history to remove cookies
Clear your browsing history to remove cookies

Social media platforms and mobile phone apps

Did you know, that mobile phone apps – and not just the big tech companies – can track every phone call you make? They also have the ability to view every photograph on your phone, they can view all of your contacts, complete information on your phone for you, track all of your internet web browsing activity and also track the places you physically visit.

One of the ways they do this is with social media voting buttons or analytics tracking scripts. They do this to build a database of you around your likes and dislikes for advertising targeting purposes. But who knows what else they use the information for and whom they sell it to, without your consent?

We know it can be a drag, but when you register your details on a new website, make sure you read the terms of service first and take steps to protect your online privacy.

Beware the social media voting buttons
Beware the social media voting buttons

Other ways on how to avoid being tracked on your phone.

The only types of apps you should be using on your phone are mobile browser apps.

Only login to websites on your phone when you absolutely have to and then log out again when you done. If you stay logged in, these apps will extract information from you that you probably don’t want them to, including gathering information through your phones microphone, ‘Enemy Of The State’ type stuff. The best way to stay logged out is to delete the cookies on your phone regularly.

Also, disable the location services on your phone. You can disable these services under your phone settings.

If you are using native phone apps (apps developed for a specific platform) then please know that a VPN (virtual private network) won’t be able to protect you from revealing your location.

One last tip: Platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter use cross-site tracking scripts or pixels which are used in social sharing and voting buttons to gather all sorts of data about you. These types of tracking efforts can be blocked using services like Disconnect.

If you have some favourite apps that you use every day for recreational purposes, and you can afford to, then have a dedicated device for these apps. Perhaps a tablet that you can set up with all the security advice and features mentioned in this blog that stays at home and you only connect to the internet when in use. Trust us, it’s worth it.

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