The topic is not really anything new, as it’s fairly common knowledge that one way or another we’re all being tracked on the internet. And as time passes the opportunities for those that insist on online anonymity are getting smaller and smaller as websites, entities, stores, and the like are becoming more aware of these techniques and create new ways to ensure that no one can be overlooked.
The massive whistleblowing case involving Edward Snowden revealed some of the impressive procedures adopted by U.S. agencies, particularly the NSA, to spy on the world, but that’s not all we should be concerned about. Social media and tech giants like Facebook and Google are keen on tracking users like this as well, and while their intentions are purely financial, hackers and other wrongdoers may have more harmful consequences. With all this going on, how do we know if we’re being tracked?
Assurances and Assumptions
One thing is for sure, if you’re on Facebook or any other social network and use Google as your default search engine, then it’s easy to assume you’re being tracked. Both companies have a pretty solid record of your interests, which will later be used ‘against’ you in the form of targeted ads. But, besides filling these companies’ vaults, you’ll notice if you look closely that they’re also giving away the information they have collected, such as your accurate physical location that is discovered by your IP address.
A good way to test this is simply by visiting a flight booking website or searching for any other travel related information. It won’t be long until you should see silly ads offering low-cost flights in your location, even if you’re miles away from the nearest airport. Email services do the same, too; send a message to anyone about the latest smartphone and you’ll surely see some unrealistically good deals being advertised as you browse the internet.
Online stores also rely on this practice to build your consumer profile, especially online marketplaces that allow you to build your own advert to sell or trade your unwanted items. In these cases, targeted advertisements can become as ridiculous as displaying your own ad.
While many ads are harmless and nothing more than an attack on your privacy, others can sometimes be a menace to your security, directing users towards phishing websites or installing all sorts of malware onto their devices. Likewise, downloading any program – despite how trustworthy it might be – can bring its own risks, since hackers may mirror an otherwise legitimate site to install additional apps that run silently in the background and collect every piece of information.
While this may seem meaningless for many, it’s best to assume that you’re being tracked in a varied number of ways, and therefore it’s crucial to take the most suitable precautions.
Knowing Who’s Tracking and Necessary Measures to Adopt
Although it’s impossible to know what exactly it is that Google, Facebook or the NSA already know about you, there are some tricks that can reveal if you’re being tracked by other entities. For instance, by typing ‘netstat’ into Windows Command, it’s possible to have access to a list of all the IP addresses that your computer is sending information to. This works best if you close everything but a browser. From there, search for each IP address that is reported and see if they correspond to services that you are indeed using. Likewise, the Task Manager will list all the apps that are running, including any hidden malware running stealthily in the background.
The best way to prevent yourself from being tracked is to hide your information as much as possible, and for that VPNs are one of the best solutions. Not only do they provide a different, anonymous IP address but all internet connections are encrypted with the best settings available, ensuring that not even ISPs can take a look at how you choose to spend your time online, nor can they impact your online experience.
It’s also recommended to abandon Google and opt for safer search engines and email services that instead take your privacy seriously, in addition to adopting safe online practices. And while we know this is impossible for most of us, it would also be best to erase your social media accounts for good. If this isn’t possible then logging out before opening a new tab is always a good measure, much like opting out of Google’s ad personalization and using an ad blocker.
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