Who Is Tracking You While You Are Searching The Web?

If you have ever wondered why there are ads from a website you visited earlier while you are currently looking at a totally different site, there is a reason:  an advertiser is “tracking” you, following you around online, reminding you of what you have recently looked at and perhaps thought of purchasing.

In her recently published book, Dragnet Nation, Julia Angwin, former journalist with the Wall Street Journal, documents how she tried to lessen her dependence on online searching through major web browsers, cell phone use, Facebook accounts and other mainstays of everyday digital life, so her privacy would be more protected.  She undertook an experiment for one year and found it was often difficult and required much high-tech knowledge to protect her privacy while still trying to maintain normal communication with family and friends.

Along the way, she used alternate identities, chatted on disposable (and sometimes Faraday caged) cell phones, used DuckDuckGo (which does not store data) instead of Google (which does) and tried Riseup, an email service designed to protect privacy.  She also gives a tip for strengthening passwords:  make them longer and avoid simple dictionary words.

In a recent article in the New York Times, Molly Wood writes on “Sweeping Away a Search History.”   She notes that web searches are usually tracked and stored in databases where the information can then be used for almost anything.  Many of the major search engines allow one to delete a search history, but that alone does not keep one from being tracked by advertisers.

While turning off a search history is one thing, a search engine such as DuckDuckGo is an alternative way to go as it collects no personally identifying information.  It claims it does not need to save search histories in order to make money on ads.  You can also try Disconnect Search, whose web version lets you search Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. without sharing your internet address or saving a search history.

As Ms. Wood notes at the end of her article, “Privacy matters for many reasons, both tangible and not, and it’s wise to exercise control when you can.”

-Wayne N.


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