Perhaps the last thing on our minds whenever we browse through our social media feeds, is regarding the digital shadow we leave on the websites we visit.
As we continue to scroll through our news feed, garnering within ourselves a feeling of senseless bliss- there is a digital footprint being created, that mimics our interests and hobbies, and might as well be a shadow version of ourselves lurking in the alleyways of the web.
Much to the uninformed user’s dismay, the browser we use and the websites we visit throughout our browsing session works day and night, to collect information that might be considered significant.
The types of information being collected and packaged include everything from your location to the model of the device you’re using to as something as meaningless as the place you last checked into for lunch.
To better understand the types of data being collected about you, keep on reading this article:
What data does your browser collect?
An example of this is that the minute you go online, your IP address is revealed, which can later be used to pinpoint your location with high accuracy.
Despite popular belief, using security measures such as a VPN does not make you completely anonymous. Whether you want to or not, specific sensitive data is being shared about you through the browser that you use.
Some other types of information being logged about you include:
Hardware and Software:
Your browser knows information about the equipment you use and the software installed onto your device.
When it comes to software, your browser knows about the Operating System you use, the type of browser you use and the additional browser plugins you have installed.
In regards to hardware, your browser collects data regarding your CPU, GPU, and the battery you use.
To reduce the amount of information that your browser collects, try using a privacy-centered plugin like NoScript.
The browser you use knows all there is to know about your connectivity to the web, which includes your IP address (which discloses your location) and internet speed.
As mentioned above, perhaps the most vital piece of information that your browser reveals about you is your location.
Even if you’ve disabled your GPS, your browser can estimate your location with acute accuracy. To avoid having your location traced back to you, try using a free web proxy or an anonymous browser.
Perhaps the most well-known information that your browser collects and stores about you is your browsing history.
If you’re a bit on the skeptical side, you might be wondering why this point is here at all, considering how easy it is to delete your browsing history.
Well, it was recently revealed that even after deleting your history, Google still stores records about the data you deleted.
Another aspect of our online activity that is being collected by browsers includes something as futile as the movements that our mouse makes.
To observe the movements that your mouse makes, use the free tool provided by ClickClickClick.
Other data collected by your browser consists of:
- The social media logins you make during your session.
- The fonts and language you utilize.
- Image data, i.e., whenever you upload an image, the browser will scan it to learn information about you.
- Technical data such as your screen size, etc.
What information do websites collect about you?
Unfortunately for us, we live in a time and age where the fact that websites snoop around and collect information about us, is more or less widely accepted.
Whether or not we give certain websites access to our sensitive data does not make a pennyworth of difference to site owners, with thousands of dollars to their name. And besides, websites already have a much more advanced way of collecting data- Cookies.
To the uninformed layman, the word ‘cookie’ brings forth images of childhood glee; however, in the context of websites, the term ‘cookie’ has very different implications.
A cookie is a message that stores specific data about you, based on your online activity, to remember your preferences for the next time you access the site.
Cookies play an essential part in targeting personalized content, including advertisements, towards you, whenever you browse through a site.
Information collected on sites includes:
- Who you are
- Where you’ve been and where you’re going
- Your likes and dislikes
- Who you’ve been talking to
Aside from the data mentioned above, information that you willingly give away consists of:
- The searches you’ve made on
- Places you’ve checked into
- Social activity, including the events you’ve attended or are planning to attend
1-Who you are
Perhaps the most prominent piece of information that websites collect about you is the basics of what makes you, well, you.
This category includes everything from your name to your age to your blood group.
Social media accounts prove to be an excellent source for websites to collect information on you. As stated above, most of this data is then used to place you in the target audience for an advertiser.
However, all this sensitive data can also easily be exploited and manipulated to further religious or political propaganda, the latter one of which was seen through the role that WhatsApp had to play in propagating fake news on the platform.
2-Where you’ve been and where you’re going
Nowadays, no one has the time to book tickets through a travel agent or any other middleman. Like any average person living in the 21st century, most people buy their tickets online.
However, with websites collecting information, there is a high probability that data concerning the places you’ve been to or are going to visit is revealed to site owners and other third party advertisers.
3- Your likes and dislikes
Another reason to be critical of the impact that social media sites have had is the fact that our likes and dislikes are blatantly exposed.
The basic principle of social media is to connect people with similar likes and dislikes, which on the surface, seems like a harbinger of euphoria.
On closer examination, however, the existence of our likes and dislikes on the internet, helps advertisers, complete access to our identities.
Cybercriminals, also reap benefits, as to identify theft becomes more accessible than ever.
4- Who you’ve been talking to
Among the data that websites collect, perhaps the one that bears the most striking resemblance to old school methods of espionage is regarding the knowledge that sites have about who you’ve been conversing with.
Your friends, ex-lovers, and family is information that you might have considered private, well, not anymore.
Websites, mainly through social media accounts, know who your friends are, and who you’ve been in touch with, whether you like it or not.
5- The searches you’ve made
Information you give up willingly includes the searches you’ve made on Google.
An interesting point to remember while searching for something on Google is regarding the ‘filter bubble,‘ which essentially means that Google ‘personalizes’ your search by showing you results you’d most likely agree with.
6- Places you’ve checked into and Social Activity
If you’ve ever posted on Facebook about checking in to a specific restaurant, you’ve unintentionally left a digital footprint about where you’ve checked in.
Online social media platforms such as Facebook, also store information about your social life, such as the events you’ve attended or are interested in.
How do I prevent getting tracked on websites?
If you’ve reached this part of the article, I’m sure you must be scared out of your wits.
Well, you don’t need to worry because we’ve got your back. To prevent websites and your browser from sneaking in and collecting information that might be sensitive to you, try incorporating the following steps into your online browsing habits:
1- Browse Anonymously
Just like when Harry puts on his invisibility cloak, websites can’t track you if you’re invisible to them.
For anonymous browsing, try using proxy servers, VPNs, from the arsenal of free choices available. But if you’re looking for complete anonymity and discreetly, try using the Tor browser, with the added protection of a VPN.
We’ve gone into why cookies are dangerous, so after you’ve wrapped up your browsing session, make sure that you erase all third-party cookies by delving into your browser’s settings.
Or for an easier approach, you can install software like CCleaner, which deletes all the third-party cookies by default.
3- Enable privacy extensions
Now that you know all about the vulnerabilities that haunt websites, as a responsible user of technology, try opting for a security fix as accessible as using a privacy extension or add-on.
Among the many choices for privacy extensions available, try using something that encrypts the communication you have with sites. A popular and viable add-on that secures your data through encryption is HTTPS Everywhere.
4-Use a private search engine
To prevent search engines such as Google and Yahoo, from collecting and storing your information, try using a private search engine such as DuckDuckGo.
Some benefits that DuckDuckGo has over other search engines are that it provides a level of anonymity to its users. It does this by not using cookies and doesn’t trace the user’s IP address as well.
5- Regularly update your privacy settings
One of the most rookie mistakes that a person can make while accessing the internet is to entirely forego the privacy settings on your browser or on the websites you visit.
Whether if it’s the privacy settings on an app you frequent, or on the browser you use, make sure that you update your settings to suit your ever-changing security needs.
Hopefully, after making it this far in the article, you’ve developed a keen grasp on topics related to the data you willingly or unwillingly give up while browsing through the internet.
We’ve mentioned a variety of ways in which you can protect yourself from giving away too much data on the internet. Incorporating these tips will not only secure you but also make online browsing much more fun and user- friendly.