You probably know by now that you’re being tracked. However, you might not know just how much people already know about you. Google alone knows what you’re watching, where you’re going and what you’re interested in online.
What about social media sites? Tap or click here to find out 18 secrets Facebook knows about you. That’s just one website, though — imagine what every other website knows about you.
From your browser history to your private email, so much of what you do online is being watched. Here’s a silver lining, though: It’s not hopeless. You can put a stop to some of the main ways you’re being tracked. Here are five ways you can turn off trackers right now.
1. Cut down on cookies by going incognito or using a VPN
Every time you browse, you collect cookies. Despite the name, these aren’t sweet treats — they actually store all the information from the websites you visit. In other words, it’s a way for your browser to learn your logins, personalizations, advertising information and other details.
You can delete cookies manually in a few steps. Tap or click here to delete cookies from your browser.
If you want a simple solution, try Incognito Mode. This is a private browsing setting you’ll find in all the major web browsers. While it’s not quite as private as people assume, it does mean your browser isn’t recording your history.
To go incognito on Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge, press Ctrl + Shift + N (or Command + Shift + N on Mac) to open a new incognito window.
For even more privacy, fire up a VPN. A VPN throws up a digital wall between your data and intrusive eyeballs. It encrypts what you do online and blocks your web activity from your ISP.
Whether you use a computer, laptop, tablet or phone, VPNs are vital to data protection. Don’t even think about a free option. At best, it will be slow. At worse, it will keep logs of your activity, which defeats the whole point.
2. Encrypt your emails
Email encryption is a secure way to protect your email from hackers, criminals and prying eyes. It’s a process where your email messages are scrambled so if hackers manage to intercept them, all they’ll see is gibberish.
You have to worry about more than just hackers. The watchful eyes of advertisers follow you from your browsing history to your private emails. Tap or click here for ways to stop people from tracking your emails.
Big-name email services like Gmail and Yahoo don’t provide end-to-end encryption. Some say it’s because they want the ability to read your messages.
The common explanation is much simpler: Watertight encryption is hard to implement, and it requires all correspondents to participate. If your email uses encryption but mine doesn’t, the process isn’t end-to-end. At some point, your message will be vulnerable.
If encrypting your emails is important to you, you’ll need to switch to a service like ProtonMail, Mailfence, Tutanota, SCRYPTmail or Hushmail. Tap or click here to find out more about each option so you can choose the one that’s right for you.
You can also send encrypted messages in Outlook. Here’s how to encrypt a single message:
- Open up an email you’re composing.
- Tap on File, then click Properties.
- Choose Security Settings.
- Then, enable the Encrypt message contents and attachments feature.
- Compose your message, and click Send.
Up to now, we’ve talked about protecting your browsing history. Now let’s dive into your location history.
3. Check your GPS settings so your apps can’t track you
It sounds creepy, but your phone knows exactly where you’ve been over the past few days, weeks or even months. Tap or click here to see how Apple’s iPhone is secretly tracking your every move.
That’s why you should tweak your phone’s location settings. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of your phone’s hidden feature: Frequent Locations. Buried deep inside your privacy settings, this feature keeps track of every step you take. The locations are way more precise than you’d believe.
Here’s how you can turn off this setting on your smartphone:
Change location settings on Apple Devices
- Click Settings, then Privacy.
- Select Location Services.
- Scroll down to System Services.
- Choose Significant Locations to see the record of where you’ve been and toggle it off.
Turn off location settings on Android devices
- Open Settings.
- Scroll down and tap Location or Advanced if you have a work profile.
- At the top, turn Use location off.
- To delete your device’s location cache, tap Delete Location History at the bottom of the screen under Location History.
- Repeat this process for each Google Account you have on your Android device.
4. Watch your TV and streaming services
Get this: Even when you’re relaxing and watching TV, you’re being watched in turn. Yep, even your streaming services are tracking your activity.
It makes sense. Netflix and Hulu want to get a sense of what shows you like. That way, their algorithm can pinpoint good recommendations for you to watch next.
However, the monitoring isn’t exactly for your benefit. Streaming services collect not only your viewing history, but also the ads you watch or skip. Then, they collect your details to share with advertisers.
If you have a smart TV, you have some settings to review there, too. We’ll walk you through how to opt-out of data collection so you can get back to binge watching in peace. Tap or click here to get started.
5. Shopping online? Turn off Amazon tracking and Google ads
Now, let’s say you turned the TV off. Now you open your laptop and decide to relieve some stress by online shopping. Surprise, surprise. That’s being tracked, too!
Have you ever noticed that Google always seems to know just what you want? Well, it’s not in your head. Of course, Google knows your every search, click, message and request.
Here’s what you can do for more privacy: Check out the Activity Tracking page.
Here, you’ll see Google’s detailed record on your activity. That includes your activity throughout the internet and other apps, location history, audio activity, and YouTube search and watch history.
You can change multiple settings to keep more of your data secret. You can even turn off Google ads. Scroll to the bottom of the activity page, and you’ll see this:
Slide the toggle to Off, and then click Turn Off. Now, keep in mind that you’re not turning off all ads. Really, you’re just turning off personalized ads.
You can use a similar trick to stop Amazon from tracking your browsing history. Just follow these steps:
- Log in to your account at Amazon.com.
- Look directly under the Amazon search bar, click Browsing History.
- On the next page, click the Manage history drop-down arrow. Click Remove all items from view. You can also remove specific items from your browsing history.
- Toggle Turn Browsing History on/off to Off.
Now, here’s how to turn off targeted ads when you’re shopping on Amazon.
- Sign in to your Amazon account. Click Account and Lists.
- Under Communication and content, click Advertising preferences.
- On this page, select Do not show me interest-based ads provided by Amazon.
Want to learn more about tracking?
Stay in the know even when you’re on the go with the Tech You Should Know podcast. Check out this episode, “Location technology and GPS systems are tracking your every move.”
Here, Kim looks at who is spying on us and how we can hide from them in order to maintain our data and privacy. Kim talks with Richard Eilert, an expert in geolocation and geofencing, and breaks down exactly how your location means big bucks for companies.
Give it a listen, and let us know what you think wherever you get your podcasts.