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Who Is Tracking You Online?

by on January 23, 2013
in Computer Safety & Support, News, Computers and Software, Blog, Facebook :: 10 comments

ZoneAlarm Infographic on Online Tracking

Full infographic available on zonealarm.com

It's probably not news that your online activity is being tracked by various marketers and sites, but do you know which ones are collecting your personal information and how they are using it? Security and privacy software company ZoneAlarm has created an infographic to educate people on the latest methods of collection.

Sometimes gathering information on your online activities as simple as the Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ buttons you see on just about every site these days. Those buttons don't just allow you to share interesting blog posts with your favorite social network, they also allow those sites to track what pages you visit even if you aren't logged into those social sites or have an account with them. Other times information collection companies rely on embedded code in banner ads that track your visits, preferences, and demographic information.

While the collection of this information is mostly geared towards delivering you ads that are of interest to you, many people don't feel comfortable having their every online activity recorded, analyzed, and sold.

What You Can Do About Online Ad Tracking

Here's how to turn on the Do Not Track feature in popular web browsers. It's not a fail-safe, though. Since Do Not Track has not been standardized yet (it's a work in progress), many advertisers ignore it.

Chrome: Under Settings>>Show advanced settings check off the “Send a “Do Not Track” request with your browsing traffic.

Safari: Under Preferences>>Advanced check off “Show Develop menu in menu bar.” Then under Develop, select “Send Do Not Track HTTP Header.”

Firefox: Under Options>>Privacy check off “Tell websites I do not want to be tracked”

Internet Explorer 9: Under Settings>>Safety select “Tracking Protection.” Then click the Enable button.

However, most of the ads you see online are likely served by Google. And Google does allow you to manage your ad preferences for whether you want to see personalized ads. Keep in mind that turning off personalized ads may give you the impression of privacy, but your browsing habits may still be tracked, it just won't be used to serve ads. And seeing non-targeted ads may actually be less useful to you.

If you're curious about how Google has classified you for ad targeting, you can view your Google cookie to see your demographic information and interest categories. You may be surprised by how accurately (or inaccurately) your browsing habits portray who you really are.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Some readers have asked about turning off cookies in your browser to prevent tracking. This will work as well, though you may find it significantly impacts your web browsing experience as many sites require cookies to log in or for basic site functionality. If complete web privacy is important to you, we suggest you read our article on Browsing the Web Anonymously.

Other Ways to Protect Your Privacy Online

Looking for other ways to protect your privacy online?  Here are a few of our must-read guides to help you manage what is and isn't seen by marketers.

In an age when even your TV may be spying on you, it always pays to stay up to date on how your activities are being used.

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Discussion loading

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Incomplete data for Safari

From Stephen on January 23, 2013 :: 11:43 am

Your instructions for Chrome worked fine. But I cannot find what you say in the DEVELOP pull down menu for Safari

Reply

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Safari Clarification

From Dan O'Halloran on January 23, 2013 :: 7:41 pm

Hi Stephen,

DEVELOP is one of the top menu items in Safari:

File, Edit, View, History, Bookmarks, DEVELOP, Window, Help

The 9th option in the Develop drop down menus is: “Send Do Not Track HTTP Header”. You want to check that.

Does that clear it up for you?

Reply

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Nope.

From Stephen on January 24, 2013 :: 8:19 am

I’m using Safari 6.0.2 and what you say is not there.  what i see is…
open page with
user agent
show web inspector
show error console
show page resources
show snippet editor
show extension builder
start profiling javascript
start timeline recording
empty caches
disable caches
disable images
disable styles
disables javascript
discable site specific hacks
disable file restrictions
enable webGL

Reply

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Sorry about that. For Safari

From Suzanne Kantra on January 24, 2013 :: 10:12 am

Sorry about that. For Safari 6:

1. Under the Safari menu, open Preferences
2. Click the “Privacy” tab and look for “Website tracking”, checking the box next to “Ask websites not to track me”

Reply

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Worked perfectly. Thank you. Also,

From Stephen on January 24, 2013 :: 10:31 am

Worked perfectly. Thank you. Also, Firefox was real easy too. I appreciate the tip.

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Cmon, man. If you are

From TonyC on January 23, 2013 :: 8:41 pm

Cmon, man. If you are going to give directions on how to change settings, be more specific.  The directions you gave for IE 9.0 were terrible!  I had to look around and figure out where the settings were located.  You should have written:

In IE 9.0, simply click TOOLS, SAFETY and then TRACKING PROTECTION. (Also, “TOOLS” refers to the gear-like icon in the upper right of the IE 9 window.) This launches the Tracking Protection view in the Manage Add-ons window.

Reply

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Thanks for posting! To clarify

From Suzanne Kantra on January 24, 2013 :: 10:22 am

Thanks for posting! To clarify for IE 9:

If you have the Command Bar open, you can find it under SAFETY>>Tracking Protection.

If you have the Menu Bar open, you can find it under Tools>>Tracking Protection.

If you have no menu bars open, you can find it under the gear icon>>Safety>>Tracking Protection

Reply

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Geez be gratefull!!

From Krista G on January 24, 2013 :: 10:45 am

Thank you Techlicious for this article and giving us this important information. I guess some people would rather complain than appreciate free information!

Reply

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Worked for me !

From KAMI on January 26, 2013 :: 12:36 pm

IE 9…..EASY to do. Information provided in this article were acurate. Had no problems finding it…(Stuck out like a sore thumb…lol)
Thank You !!

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Chrome settings

From Drew Gost on February 04, 2013 :: 7:35 am

Chrome: Under Settings>>Show advanced settings check off the “Send a “Do Not Track” request with your browsing traffic.

This is what you get when you do the above:

Do Not Track
Does Chrome provide details of which websites and web services respect Do Not Track requests and how they interpret them?

No. At this time, most web services, including Google’s, do not alter their behavior or change their services upon receiving Do Not Track requests. (Updated October 2012). Learn more about Chrome’s other privacy and security features

Reply

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