How Websites Watch Us + How to Make Them Stop

5 minute read

How Websites Watch Us + How to Make Them Stop

Have you ever felt like you’re being watched? Not in your car or your home, but on your very own device?

Not to scare you, but you are. However, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It all goes back to internet tracking, and it’s a way for websites to see how you interact with their content, along with collecting data to enhance the user experience. It’s the reason ads on certain websites seem catered to you and that your experience on one website may be better than that of another. Again, not necessarily a bad thing — if you appreciate the personalization.

Internet tracking, for the most part, is harmless. However, internet users have a right to know how and why their data is being collected. That’s why we’re letting you know how websites use internet tracking and even a few tips on how to make them stop. 

Why do websites use internet tracking?

Internet tracking isn’t as scary as it sounds. Mainly, it’s used to collect data on internet users to improve their browsing experience. For example, sites like YouTube and Netflix can utilize internet tracking to suggest an episode of a show you may like or a movie based on your search history. Furthermore, retail sites can use internet tracking to recommend products that you may be interested in. And sites like Google can use it to recommend related websites.

On occasion, though, internet tracking is meant for more than user experience. Sites may be utilizing internet tracking in order to:

  • Promote ads targeted to you
  • Monitor activity to identity cybercriminals, hackers, and other suspicious online activity
  • Measure website analytics
  • Pinpoint problems within the site

Yet, not everyone feels comfortable with internet tracking. And while it can be – for the most part – harmless, many internet users would prefer to keep their data private.

How do websites track us?

Before knowing how to stop the internet from tracking you, it’s important to know how exactly the internet tracks you. Over the years, the methods of internet tracking have been growing and growing. However, here are four ways the internet may collect, analyze, and track your activity.

Cookies

Cookies are one of the most popular methods of internet tracking — more than 40 percent of websites use some type of cookie to track online activity. Cookies are essentially a storage file about how individual users interact with a website. Translation: They help the site remember what was added into your shopping cart, what news articles you’ve clicked on, and even the sort of website preferences you’ve selected. Because cookies are specific to websites, you’re always asked to either “accept” or “decline” cookies every time you enter a new site.

Account tracking

Whenever you make an account on a certain website, they’re probably using account tracking to their advantage. With this method, sites are able to monitor your online activity as you’re logged into your account. Typically, users are asked for their permission to be tracked in this way, but it’s important to note that certain sites might be sneakier about asking for permission.

Web beacons

Web beacons (or web bugs) are used to see how users interact with the specific actions of a website. This can be anything from the content you click on or the articles you open and read. Commonly, web beacons are used in email exchanges to mark if messages have been received or open.

Browser fingerprinting

Browser fingerprinting takes all of the information about your device – its operating system, language preferences, time zone, etc. – to create a unique and specific online experience. This is called your “online fingerprint” and it can be used to personalize your time on the internet. Your fingerprint can then be traced back to you across the internet and different browsing sessions, making the internet as a whole more appealing for you, your interests, and your preferences.

How do I get websites to stop tracking me?

Although there are many pros to internet tracking, it’s important to remember it can have its downsides as well. For instance, your data may be stolen or corrupted by cybercriminals and hackers, resulting in your personal and valuable information becoming vulnerable to identity theft or credit card fraud. 

For these reasons, many internet users may opt-out of internet tracking. But, how can you get websites to stop tracking you? Here are a few ways to stop internet tracking in its tracks:

  • Adjust your privacy settings on your devices to reflect your comfortability with location services, targeted ads, and cookie collection across different websites.
  • Enable “do not track” to send a message to your browser to disable internet tracking. (Just remember this is merely a request, and individual websites may not choose to honor it).
  • Decline cookie usage on websites by simply pressing “decline” when they ask.
  • Use tracker blockers and other plug-ins to disable internet tracking.
  • Use a VPN (or virtual private network) to hide the location of your IP address.

Internet tracking isn’t as scary as it may sound, and it’s not as malicious as many of us think it is. However, since it’s your data, it’s up to you to decide how comfortable you feel when it comes to internet privacy.

For more information on all things internet tracking, including basic information as to how internet tracking works, how sites may track you, where you may be tracked online, and even some tips on how to cover your digital tracks, pore over the infographic below.

An infographic, courtesy of Norton, provides an internet tracking definition, plus common methods for internet tracking and tips to stop being followed online


 

Internet tracking FAQs

What is my web data used for?

Sites may be utilizing internet tracking in order to: promote ads targeted to you, monitor activity to identity cybercriminals, hackers, and other suspicious online activity, measure website analytics, or pinpoint problems within the site.

How do websites track my activity? 

The four most popular internet tracking methods are cookies, account tracking, web beacons, browser fingerprinting.

How can I stop internet tracking?

Here are a few ways to stop internet tracking in its tracks: adjust your privacy settings on your devices, enable do not track to send a message to your browser to disable internet tracking, decline cookie usage, use tracker blockers, and use a VPN to hide the location of your IP address.