There has been a lot of concern recently about internet users being tracked online. The talk has largely been around Facebook and their relationship to Cambridge Analytica. This brought to light the fact that Facebook let third parties continue gathering personal data from its users, even when it seemed their own privacy rules had been broken. This has also led to wide discussion of the European law on gathering personal data, The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

Numerous apps that appear regularly on social media have been gathering huge amounts of personal data, often by inviting users to sign up for quizzes or online games and asking them to ‘Login with Facebook’.  Pressing that button often meant the user allowed the app to access their data. It’s been reported that thousands of app owners and developers still hold personal data on millions of users, although it’s not clear if and how they might use it. 

Much of the coverage has been focused on Facebook, but they are by no means the only platform which tracks your online activity. Search engines, advertisers, apps, platforms and ISP commonly do so as well, to various degrees and for various reasons. 

The information collected includes data on our behaviours and location and is getting smarter and more joined-up with cross-device tracking. Browsing history might be combined with your physical location and evidence of regular journeys like your commute to work, along with retail purchases, TV viewing habits and other factors to build a user’s individual profile and target them with tailored ads. More worryingly, there is also concern that this data could be used to influence elections or that it could fall into the hands of cybercriminals. 

It will be difficult to completely avoid being tracked (some useful apps do need to have access to your location, for instance) and the data that has already been shared can’t be taken back. That being said, there are a number of steps you can take to increase your privacy protection. 

Check your Facebook apps 

Many of us have filled a few minutes on Facebook by clicking through to a quiz or a game. It’s important to take stock of what applications you have allowed to access your account. Revoke access for any applications you no longer use. Be especially wary of any apps that offer suspicious functionality such as helping you to generate ‘likes’ or followers, or those that claim to allow you access to private accounts on Instagram of other social media platforms. 

Download all your Facebook data to find out more 

Some people have decided to delete their Facebook accounts in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. If you plan to do so, it’s especially important to download all the data they hold about you first, so you have a record what has been collected. Go to Settings, General Account Settings, and then click ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data.’ 

Deleting cookies 

As mentioned above, many different entities might track users online, and one of the main ways they do this is with cookies – small pieces of code that are downloaded into a user’s browser when they visit a website. The cookies in your browser can then record when you visit that website again, and targeted ads can be directed towards an individual based on their browsing history. Users need to regularly clear their browsing data in order to get rid of all the cookies. 

Using a VPN 

In basic terms a Virtual Private Network (VPN) allows your machine to access the internet via an intermediary server. It reroutes and encrypts all internet traffic, hiding a user’s IP address (i.e. the label that allows people to identify your devices). Once the information is encrypted and the IP address is hidden, it is very difficult to track the user. 

Using browser add-ons for privacy 

There are a number of options for internet browser extensions which provide anti-tracking or anti-cookie functionality. For instance, Disconnect Private Browsing protects from tracking and malware. It blocks third-party cookies and protects against tracking by sites like Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Another option is Privacy Badger by the not-for-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation. For Firefox users, Facebook Container Extension isolates Facebook activity in a separate ‘container’ tab which makes it more difficult for them to track activity on other websites via third-party cookies. 

Follow these steps to ensure you avoid being tracked online. Want to ensure your business’s data is safe? Contact MSP Blueshift today.