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Companies are hired to watch what internet sites people visit, and then use the information, for instance by sending advertising based on one's browsing history. There are many ways in which people can divulge their personal information, for instance by use of "social media" and by sending bank and credit card information to various websites. Moreover, directly observed behavior, such as browsing logs, search queries, or contents of the Facebook profile can be automatically processed to infer potentially more intrusive details about an individual, such as sexual orientation, political and religious views, race, substance use, intelligence, and personality.[1]

Current Risks Edit

Cookies are proliferating. We've been living with cookies for nearly as long as we've had the Internet, so what's new? Well, it turns out that cookies are proliferating at an alarming rate. A single site that might once have deposited one or two cookies on your PC now leaves behind dozens, from a wide variety of sources. You are now being tracked by myriad companies, services, and technologies, and it's all completely invisible to you. The Do Not Track option in your browser isn't going to help, either, because it's up to every site whether they respect the request -- and most don't.

The government is in your cloud. According to {{#NewWindowLink: http://www.gartner.com/technology/home.jsp | Gartner }}, 36 percent of consumer content will be stored in the cloud by 2016. As we increase the volume of data that we store online -- not just music and video, but also documents and personal information -- it'll become increasingly important to recognize what until recently was just an interesting quirk in U.S. law: Online data is exempt from traditional {{#NewWindowLink: https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fourth_amendment | Fourth Amendment }} protection. The "unreasonable search and seizure" clause of the Constitution only applies to property that is in your possession, such as on your computer's hard drive. Data stored in the cloud gets no such built-in protection.

You can be tracked. And you probably are being tracked. Thanks to the rapid proliferation of location-aware mobile devices, your location can generally be known at all times. Compound that with social media posts, which are often tagged with your location, and photos from smartphones that are likewise location-tagged, and you have fleetingly little privacy from anyone who might want to know your whereabouts. Many of those tracking features can be disabled, but most people aren't savvy enough to do so.[2]

Avoid Tracking Edit

Web Browser Add-Ons: Edit

Ghostery Edit

DETECT

{{#NewWindowLink: https://www.ghostery.com/en/ | Ghostery }} sees the "invisible" web, detecting trackers, web bugs, pixels, and beacons placed on web pages by Facebook, Google, and thousands of other companies interested in your activity.

LEARN

After showing you who operates behind the scenes, Ghostery also gives you the opportunity to learn more about each company it identifies, including links to their privacy policy and opt-out options.

CONTROL

Ghostery allows you to block scripts, images, objects and framed documents from companies that you don't trust.

COLLABORATE

Ghostery also includes the optional, opt-in feature called Ghostrank, which sends Ghostery servers anonymous information about the trackers you encounter and where you encounter them. This allows us to create a more comprehensive list of detectable items, and helps us create a more transparent behavioral advertising ecosystem.

PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY

Ghostery is built and maintained for users that care about their online privacy, and is engineered with privacy as a primary goal. Ghostery use is anonymous. No registrations or sign-ups are required. The Ghostery plug-in does not place cookies into your browser. Besides a single, non-identified ping on install and upgrade, Ghostery never receives any data from users unless they've chosen to participate in Ghostrank. Ghostrank data itself is anonymous, is NEVER used for advertising targeting purposes, and is only shared in aggregated, non-personal, statistical form.[3]

Disconnect Edit

{{#NewWindowLink: https://disconnect.me | Disconnect }}, named one of the 100 best innovations of the year by Popular Science and one of the 20 best Chrome extensions by Lifehacker, lets you visualize and block the otherwise invisible websites that track your search and browsing history.

▪ Load the pages you go to 27% faster.

▪ Stop tracking by 2,000+ third-party sites.

Disconnect is open-source <http://git.io/Do5OtA>, pay-what-you-want software <https://disconnect.me/support>.

Further options to avoid Tracking Edit

If none of these extensions make you feel any better, or you want to take protecting your privacy and personal data to the next level, it's time to break out the big guns. One tip that came up during our last discussion about Facebook was to use a completely separate web browser just for logged-in social networks and web services, and another browser for potentially sensitive browsing, like your internet shopping, banking, and other personal activities.

If you're really tired of companies tracking you and trading in your personal information, you always have the option to just provide false information. The same way you might give a fake phone number or address to a supermarket card sign-up sheet, you can scrub or change personal details about yourself from your social network profiles, Google accounts, Windows Live account, and others.

Change your birthdate, or your first name. Set your phone number a digit off, or omit your apartment number when asked for your street address. We've talked about how to disappear before, and carefully examine the privacy and account settings for the web services you use. Keep in mind that some of this goes against the terms of service for those companies and services—they have a vested interest in knowing the real you, after all, so tread carefully and tread lightly if you want to go the "make yourself anonymous" route. Worst case, start closing accounts with offending services, and migrate to other, more privacy-friendly options.

These are just a few tips that won't significantly change your browsing experience, but can go a long way toward protecting your privacy. This issue isn't going anywhere, and as your personal information becomes more valuable and there are more ways to keep it away from prying eyes, you'll see more news of companies finding ways to eke out every bit of data from you and the sites you use. Some of these methods are more intrusive than others, and some of them may turn you off entirely, but the important thing is that they all give you control over how you experience the web. When you embrace your privacy, you become engaged with the services you use. With a little effort and the right tools, you can make the web more opt-in than it is opt-out.[4]

  1. Kosinski, Michal; Stillwell, D.; Graepel, T. (2013). "Private traits and attributes are predictable from digital records of human behavior".Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110 (15): 5802–5805.
  2. Johnson, D. (2013, April 9). The biggest online privacy risks for 2013. Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-biggest-online-privacy-risks-for-2013/
  3. About Ghostery. (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2015, from https://www.ghostery.com/en/about
  4. Henry, A. (2012, February 22). Everyone's Trying to Track What You Do on the Web: Here's How to Stop Them. Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://lifehacker.com/5887140/everyones-trying-to-track-what-you-do-on-the-web-heres-how-to-stop-them

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