Have you ever tried searching for yourself on Google? Sure, it might seem like fun to see how many times you come up in a Google search. You’ll find your Facebook profile, a talkback you posted a few years ago and some whitepages.com results. Nothing too interesting there. But when you think about it, the very fact that you do come up means you’re being tracked. And it’s all thanks to cookies.
Chocolate-privacy-chip or oatmeal-data-raisin?
Cookies may sound cute and tasty like their delectable namesake, but about the only thing these two things have in common is that they are both small. When it comes to data, cookies are files that hold a small amount of information that allow websites to connect identifying information to your account. The idea here is to create a more tailored web experience – Cookies are how websites remember your passwords and how you can “like” something even when you aren’t using Facebook. But there is another reason websites track you – It’s because you’re worth a lot of money. Websites record your activity so they can sell your information to third party advertising platforms, essentially delivering ads that they hope are relevant to you.
If the thought of freely giving away your data doesn’t bother you, or if you feel like your data is a fair trade so that you can log onto your websites with greater ease, that’s okay, you are entitled to your opinion. But there is a growing movement of internet users who don’t feel that they should have their every move tracked. At ZoneAlarm we believe that everyone deserves the right to create real digital privacy so we have compiled a list of the best tools and tips to erase, or at least minimize, your digital footprint.
Delete old inactive accounts
Did you sign up for Google+ and then realize that you have no idea what G+ means by “circles” and that nobody else does, either? Or maybe you have an inactive Skype or Windows Live account that you haven’t been to in years and don’t plan on using any time soon. As long as the account is active, the information that’s stored on it can be found in searches, so get rid of them.
Once you delete your account, your information is often still stored on the site’s servers but at least by deleting your inactive accounts, you minimize the amount of searchable information about you.
Some sites make it really simple to delete your account like Twitter, who gives really straightforward instructions and other sites like Facebook make it really difficult to do – but if you aren’t planning on using it ever again, it’s worth it to delete your account.
Unsubscribe from email lists
Do you find your inbox bursting with useless emails from that store where you bought your treadmill? Or are you often inundated with newsletters from places you don’t even remember giving your email address to (like that pesky Flyfishing Weekly that keeps showing up in your inbox!)?
Your best bet is to unsubscribe yourself from their mailing lists. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the email and there will be a small like to unsubscribe. Just hit the link and it will take you to a page that asks you to confirm your request. Confirm that you do indeed want to cancel your email subscription and voila! You just helped clean up your inbox and helped reduce your digital footprint a bit too.
Check out your browsers privacy settings – and adjust them accordingly
Regardless of whether you’re a Chrome, Firefox or Edge fan, your browser can give away a whole lot of information about you if you don’t have your privacy settings configured the way you want them. In all of them you can block third party cookies. By disabling them, advertisers can no longer put files onto your browser that would allow them to track you. You can also turn cookies off altogether but be forewarned that this will affect how easily you can browse the web.
You can also surf in Private Browsing Mode in Chrome, Firefox, and Edge, which will keep your information from being recorded.
Use Anti-tracking tools
Your browsing history contains lots of information about you and as we said earlier, that’s valuable to advertisers. In an interview with the New York Times, Cooper Quinton of the Electronic Frontier Foundation said “More than just being creepy, it’s a huge violation of privacy,…People need to be able to read things and do things and talk about things without having to worry that they’re being watched or recorded somewhere.”
Anti-tracking tools let you know when you’re being tracked and allow you to actively decide whether or not to share your information with sites.
Some good anti tracking tools are:
They all function differently, so decide which one fits your needs best.
Use a Private Search Engine
We already know that Google stores information but so do Bing and Yahoo. Here are other options that don’t store, and therefore, do not sell your info:
Disconnect search extension
Share less stuff
We live in a world where sharing has become second, perhaps even first, nature. This desire for constant connectivity to our nearest and dearest 2000 friends may be good for our fragile egos, but in truth, every status update, every picture you post is a privacy killer. So think about your posts and updates and determine where and how you can share less stuff. If you really want someone to know something, call them or send them an email.
The choice should be in your hands
Sure, some people might argue that tracking is what makes the internet go ‘round. And to a certain extent that’s true. But there has to be a limit and the power to decide where that limit lies should be in the user’s hands, not in the hands of the advertisers.
What do you think about tracking and privacy? What actions do you take (or not take) to ensure your data is kept private?