Interested in your level of cyber security? Want to know how and what companies track you? If so, read on! Definitely try out the interactive elements I have included :)
1. Who can track my activity on websites?
Just because you visit websites that seem to have no connection to companies like Facebook or Tumblr doesn’t mean that they can’t track you (yes, scary is right). Every bit of data collected from you helps dozens of companies tailor your experience on their pages (or on other people’s pages who have similar online personas) to better fit the patterns you exhibit online. Because of this, companies want to track you even when you’re not on their specific site. Essentially, they gain the ability to track you by embedding their own code (could be one of those social media buttons, images, etc) into lots of websites. I wanted to explore this a bit and found that when I was doing some research on cute puppies, companies like instagram could track me! Weird, right?
Try it yourself: Go to a web page of your choice and right click anywhere. Select view page source and then do command + f (or the equivalent way to search for words on your device). Type in the name of any company (e.g. Instagram, Tumblr, Google...) and see if their name appears. If it does then that means they have a bit of their own code embedded in the site and can use it to gain the right to track you!
2. What about me is being tracked and recorded?
So, many companies have access to your data, but what exactly can they see? A few basic things include:
Your location (state, city, specific coordinates). Maybe it’s not a big deal that anyone can search your IP address and see your location... or maybe it is.
Device type and settings. Again, this information being available may not be a big deal for the average person, but becoming more secure becomes increasingly important when you work and are part of a company; a company can only be as strong as their weakest link.
General things that you might expect: who you are, where you’ve been, who you’ve been talking to, what you’re interested in, and more. This is made possible by tracking your Google searches, the places you check into accounts, and the posts you share on social media.
Try it yourself: click here to see some of the things that all of the websites you visit can see about you. Find anything surprising? Be sure to scroll down and check everything out!
Try it yourself: Search “Panopticlick” and click “Test Me”. This is a basic but effective tool that will give you a good idea of how secure you are. The image below is an example of what you might see, and the results aren’t great. Ideally, there should be at least 2-3 green check marks.
Now click “Show full results for fingerprinting”. Here is an example result:
Within our dataset of several hundred thousand visitors tested in the past 45 days, only one in 127605.5 browsers have the same fingerprint as yours. Currently, we estimate that your browser has a fingerprint that conveys 16.96 bits of identifying information.
What does this mean though? Well, the smaller each number is the better because a more unique browser makes you more trackable-- which isn’t great. Stay tuned to the end of the article for ways to make yourself a little less unique and trackable!
Try it yourself: When you are online, everything little thing you do is tracked. Just check this out.
3. How is my data used?
I have touched on this a little already but here are some ways to see exactly how your data is used.
Try it yourself: Look up a word or phrase on Google and have a friend do the same. Now, look to see how the links that show up are different (or are just in a different order) from your friend’s. Weird, right?
See, many people do not realize that even search results on google will be different depending on their online persona. For example, someone who frequently shops at target online will probably have different results if they search “dresses” than someone who frequently shops at Nordstrom. The target shopper will most likely have links to cheaper clothing stores (appear first) that are more in line with their spend history and the Nordstrom shopper will likely have the opposite.
Ads are another thing that might creep us out sometimes because of how closely they align with our online history. We’ve probably seen videos about people talking around their phone to see if they get targeted ads... regardless of whether or not this works, we do know for sure that your search history impacts the ads you get both on websites and social media platforms.
Hopefully this is all interesting to see and read about- the topic of cybersecurity seems to slip our minds sometimes. Now, you may be wondering, well, how do I fix these issues and be more secure? Sorry to say that there isn’t one clear answer because it really depends on how secure you want to be. But here are some things that could get you started (related to the ability of others to track you):
Delete unnecessary extensions and reset settings to default: works towards making your browser less unique and therefore less trackable
Install uBlock origin or Privacy Badger: block ads and tracking cookies that are unnecessary
Make sure you are always using HTTPS (can download extensions to ensure this)
Clear your browser history and cookies every so often
Use private search engines like Ixquick and Startpage (they don’t track you!)
Fun fact: Firefox is one of the most secure browsers you can use!
It all comes down to how secure you want to be or how bothered you are by companies being able to see your every move. However, we are in a digital age and so it is important to at least be aware of your level of security!