Your web browser may be a window to the online world, but did you know it can also open the door for snoops to spy on your every move? Some of these snoops are harmful hackers, while others are just marketers that want to sell you products.
Either way, you probably don't want people knowing every page you've visited, keyword you've searched for, or comment you've posted online. There are things you can do stop Google and other sites from following your every move.
Before we get started:
Follow these step-by-step instructions, it's important that you understand the two primary reasons your activity is tracked online.
The first reason involves cybercriminals who don't have your best interest in mind. These crooks aim to install malware on your personal computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet so they can collect your private information.
The malware used by these culprits is designed to hide on your device and monitor your activity quietly behind the scenes. If you take a moment to think of everything you type, all of the websites you visit and apps you use daily, it should give you an idea of the type of data effective malware can collect on you.
Your name, date of birth, email address, private residence, social security number, bank account information and all of your passwords can be stolen without you even knowing it. The crooks can then use this data to target you for phone and mail scams, or they can even steal your identity. And, if they get their hands on the right kind of information, they can even use your contact list to begin targeting your family and friends.
But here's the good news: Preventing this type of tracking is easier than you think. First, use caution whenever you're connected to the internet. Don't click links from unknown sources, or download programs or apps without evaluating them for safety. Next, test your device to see if it already has a virus. Click here for five signs your computer or tablet has malware on it.
The last step is all about prevention. No matter what, you need to have a strong anti-virus software installed on your computer, smartphone and tablet. And, just because you've installed a free anti-virus software on your computer doesn't necessarily mean you're protected. If you need to update to a program that offers more protection, click here and we'll walk you through the process of making the switch.
The second reason people are interested in your online activity isn't as harmful as the first. However, that doesn't necessarily make it feel any less invasive. Companies use what's called "behavioral tracking" so they can present ads to you that are more relevant to your interests. Some companies even use this data to design better products and services.
On the surface, that sounds just fine. Why wouldn't you want services that seem tailor-made just for you? And why waste time dodging ads that have nothing to do with your interests?
Behavioral tracking as a concept makes a lot of sense. But as an individual, it still feels pretty creepy when your computer knows more about you than you think it should.
It's probably happened to you before. After shopping online and clicking on a few items, you suddenly start to notice ads for those items on every website you visit.
That's behavioral tracking in action. Keep reading if you'd like to learn how to stop it.
OK, now you're ready to go. The first thing you need to do is start out with a clean slate. To do this, you'll want to clear out your web browsing history.
1. Clear your browsing history
On your computer:
Google Chrome: Go to your Settings menu >> Click History >> Click Clear Browsing Data.
To wipe your history completely, in the section that says, "Obliterate the following items from," select, "the beginning of time." Then, check all of the boxes for Browsing History, Download History, Cookies and Other Site Plugin Data, Cached Images and Files, Passwords, Autofill Form Data, Hosted App Data and Media Licenses.
Microsoft Edge: Settings menu >> Beneath Clear Browsing Data, click Choose What To Clear >> Select the categories you'd like to delete. (You can also click "Clear Bing Search History," if you use the Bing search engine regularly).
Mozilla Firefox: Settings menu >> Click History >> Click Clear Recent History >> Select timeframe you'd like to clear (Last hour, last two hours, last four hours, today or everything) >> Click on the down arrow labeled Details to bring up a list of category options to clear >> Select Clear Now.
Safari: Select History from the menu bar across the top of your browser screen >> Click Clear History >> Select the time frame (Last hour, today, today and yesterday, all history) >> Click Clear History.
Clearing your history in Safari will automatically delete any record of web pages you've visited, recent searches, snapshots saved from open webpages, records of downloaded items, your Frequently Visited Sites list, etc. These details will also be cleared from any other device you've used while signed into your iCloud account.
On your tablet and phone:
Clearing out the web browsing history on your mobile device is a bit different. Here's how to do it for both Apple and Android:
Apple: Go to your phone's Settings >> Tap Safari >> Scroll down and tap, "Clear History and Website Data."
Android: Open the app for Google Chrome (or your preferred web browser) >> Tap the menu button, then Settings >> Tap Privacy, then Clear Browsing Data >> Select the types of data you'd like to delete, then tap Clear.
2. Disable tracking
Everything you do online begins with a web browser. Whether you're reading up on current events or browsing YouTube to watch cat videos, your browser is storing data about the search terms you use and pages you visit.
Watch this video for step-by-step instructions on disabling browser tracking in Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, and Firefox.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch: Go to Settings >> Privacy >> Advertising >> Turn on Limited Ad Tracking. Next, go to Settings >> Privacy >> Location Services >> System Services >> Turn off Location-based Apple Ads.
Apple TV: Go to Settings >> General >> Privacy >> Turn on Limit Ad Tracking.
Mac/MacBook: Select Safari from the menu bar across the top of your browser screen >> Click Preferences >> Click Privacy >> Next to Website Tracking, click the box that says, Ask websites not to track me.
It's not just your web browser that should have you concerned. Facebook is also tracking your activity and using that data to attract advertisers. Facebook will always keep track of the things you Like and share, but you can turn targeting advertising off. Here's how:
From your Facebook profile, click on the small upside-down triangle in the upper-right side. Choose Settings >> select Ads from the left-hand side of the page >> Facebook selects Yes as the default option, but if you edit these settings and select Off, it will change the permissions to No.
You should also opt-out of Facebook's "always listening" mode. Watch this video to learn how.
3. Use a different browser
Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Safari and Mozilla Firefox are the most popular browsers. People love them for various reasons. Some are faster and easier to use. Some don't drain your battery as quickly. If you're on the fence as to which browser to use, read this article for a full comparison of the top browsers.
If privacy is your top concern, however, there are alternative options. Search engines such as Yippy, DuckDuckGo and Ixquick don't track you like other web browsers do. Click here for the pros and cons of each one, and see if they're a better fit for you.