Friday, November 12, 2010

How to Fight Online Tracking Programs...

The New York Times has just posted a great list of tools that people ought to consider using to protect themselves from online tracking.

Yes, whatever you do online is somehow being tracked, and it doesn't make you a conspiracy-theorist to say so. It's a matter of fact. The websites you visit keep records of how much time you spend on a site, which pages you visit, what site you came from beforehand, what site you went to afterwards, and about a thousand other bits of information that are then used for marketing purposes.

People often conjure up images of Big Brother, but it's not the government who's tracking you online... it's the advertising industry. They do so by implanting cookies (specialized files that are saved onto your hard drive), as well as "supercookies" like Flash and document object management (or DOM) cookies, which can hold more information. Another method used is the deployment of "Web bugs" or "beacons", which let sites record statistics like what ads attracted you to the site and whether you bought something.

Most people are at least somewhat aware that they should delete their cookies once-in-a-while. But supercookies and web bugs actually are NOT deleted when you clear out regular cookies through your browser. Here are some quick summary links from the NY Times article on a few steps you can take to fight the online trackers...

  1. Remove standard cookies. Here are instructions for doing so on all four major browsers.

  2. To remove Flash cookies, visit Adobe’s online Flash Player settings page at, click on the “Website Storage Settings” panel and remove all or some of the files. Block or restrict future third-party Flash cookies by going to the “Global Storage Settings” panel.

  3. Download some privacy-oriented plug-ins for your browser. Most of these not only allow you to manage cookies, supercookies, and web bugs, but they also let you see who is trying to follow your online movements and helps you decline targeted ads from different ad networks. Such plug-ins include BetterPrivacy, Taco, Ghostery, and CCleaner.

  4. Slow down the marketers by spreading your searches among several engines. Also consider using different companies for search and Web-based e-mail.

  5. Use a search engine that does not track users’ activity. lets you search with Google without being tracked or seeing ads. Startpage runs simultaneous searches on multiple engines anonymously.

  6. Mask your IP address. Try anonymizing software like Tor or OpenVPN.

Hopefully, you'll find this list pretty helpful. If one thing's for sure it's that the online marketers aren't disappearing anytime soon. Taking a few simple steps goes a long way towards protecting yourself.


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