Just like CSI uses forensics experts to look for fingerprints, your digital behavior is tracked by businesses and followed by tools like Google Analytics or marketing suites like HubSpot. Except you’re not a criminal, and their goal is to sell you more things.
This breach of privacy escalates when one of the companies gathering your information gets hacked. In 2016, a data breach of Yahoo! exposed 3 billion user accounts. In 2017, the Equifax data breach affected the information of 146.6 million people.
A quick scan of the largest hacks is enough to want to throw your computer away. Your information’s just been exposed, and you didn’t even know you were giving it out. That’s why it’s important to know how tracking has changed in the past few years, and what you can do to protect yourself.
There is a traditional method of tracking online behavior that involves browser cookies, which provide a way for a website to recognize you and keep track of your preferences. A ‘cookie’ was sent back and forth from your browser to a web server to keep track of your activity. These were limited to a single browser, so if you switched from Firefox to Chrome – or from a laptop to a tablet – your information was stored separately.
Recent tracking has incorporated a technique called ‘device fingerprinting.’ Every time you visit a website, click a button, or purchase an item, your information is tracked. Sounds like browser cookies, right? Except with device fingerprinting, companies can now piece together your history through different devices and combine it into a profile.
Now, when these companies are hacked, your information is grouped and neatly organized. It’s the equivalent of keeping your house unlocked with all your valuables labeled in an easy-to-carry bag right next to the door. Plus, these companies can also buy and sell your information, so once it’s out there, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of who has it.
How to Wipe Your Fingerprints
There are a few helpful techniques you can use to put some locks on that front door and spread your valuables throughout the house. The first and most effective way is to enlist the help of a tool that can hide your digital fingerprints. Tools like TrackOFF act like an online paper shredder, hiding the evidence of where you’ve been. That way, when tracking tools try to gather your information, you look like a different person every time. The door is shut on companies putting together a consolidated profile of your behavior over time or across devices, and your information is now safely obscured and randomized when they get hacked.
The second thing you can do is regularly clear your browsing history and cookies. This won’t protect you from device fingerprinting, but it will protect you from lots of tools out there that still rely on cookie-based tracking. Clearing your history and cookies helps obscure your behavior from companies trying to compile your decisions over time by making you look like a new user the next time you visit a site.
The third technique you can use to obscure your identity and keep your information safe is to browse privately or in ‘Incognito’ mode. Private browsing mode will allow you to browse the web without storing any cookies or history after you close the browser window. All of the popular web browsers (Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer) have private browsing modes.
For a tutorial on how to browse in private mode on any browser, click here.
For a tutorial on how to delete your cookies and browsing history, click here.
For a tool that helps hide your digital fingerprints, consider TrackOFF.