Tracking systems log your every step on the internet.
Systems for web tracking and web analysis try to find out as much as possible about users. This data is meant to enable advertisers to communicate targeted banner ad content and product information. However, the data also allows them to create profiles of user habits. There is a risk of becoming too transparent as a user.
What is tracking?
It is common knowledge among experienced users that we leave marks wherever we browse online. Technology alone cannot prevent this from happening. If you access an online shop or news website, you interact with a server where the content is stored. Accessing the elements creates an entry in the server’s log containing information such as where the user came from (for example, via a link or a hit in a search engine).
Today’s web tracking goes well beyond this simple logging process, loading tiny files (cookies) or content including elements invisible to the user into the browser and then leaving feedback on the provider’s system. Many advertisers rely on the services of a manageable number of marketing agencies, and this allows those marketers to compile data.
Tracking may have made you pay too much for your vacation
Tracking scripts collect lots of information through the user’s system. For example, they detect the user’s technology or can tell that the user has viewed the same product many times. This information is then analyzed in real time. But it doesn’t stop there. Online stores are using a process known as “dynamic pricing” more and more frequently. Basically, it means that the prices in a web store change over time rather than remaining static.
However, it can also make you pay too much. For example, consumer advice centers have found that the same hotel booking is available at different prices – it all depends on whether users view the offer from a desktop or from a smartphone. In other online stores, technical devices cost more if the customer browses the store from an Apple device. The idea behind this is apparently that customers who have paid more for hardware will also pay more for other products. So taking steps against tracking not only makes for more privacy, but saves you money as well.
How to protect yourself from tracking
- First, change your basic browser settings. Many programs let you enable the “Do not track” function. In Chrome, for example, you can enable the “Send a ‘Do Not Track’ request with your browsing traffic” option in Settings > Advanced. In Edge, you will find this under Privacy & Services in Advanced Settings. In Firefox as well, you can use the options under “Tracking Protection” by accessing Settings. However, not all providers adhere to these browser instructions.
- Browsing in the browser’s Private or Incognito mode makes it harder going for trackers because it allows cookies but deletes them after the session. Still, this is a radical method, because some cookies can be practical. For example, they may save your login with a provider. The next time you go to the website, the cookie signals that you have already been there, saving you the trouble of re-entering your user name and password.
- Check your cookie settings in your browser. The “Accept third-party cookies” option should be disabled at all times. This alone will stop many tracking methods.
- Install a special program for your browser that prevents tracking and only executes useful cookies and scripts. Installing such apps demands trust. There were cases in the past in which the app itself collected data about the user while preventing tracking. Here are some useful add-ons that have also been compared by Stiftung Warentest:
- Adblock Plus
- Better Privacy
- Cliqz Add-on
- Privacy Badger
- uBlock Origin
A new trend for anonymity: privacy boxes
The add-ons and programs for more browsing privacy work flawlessly, but they are designed to be embedded in the browser for which they have been installed. If you use a different computer or browser, you are no longer protected unless you copy the settings and install the add-ons again.
So if you want to protect the kids’ and your partner’s computers, along with the family’s tablets and smartphones, you’ve got a big job ahead of you. “Privacy boxes” offer help with this. They are centrally linked with the router on the home network and automatically filter out tracking scripts or banner ads. Some of them also offer additional functions such as the option of browsing completely anonymously or filtering the content that children can see when browsing.
Here is a sample of such central solutions
Purchasing a box like this makes it easy to update various systems. Before you purchase this kind of device, it is a good idea to find out directly from the manufacturer whether you can also operate the box on your network and with the router you use.