Taking Back Our Data: Cutting Down on Data Tracking

In my last blog post, I told you about how data tracking and data brokers operate, and how they are gaining access to your Internet data. Now that you know who is looking at your data and how they are getting it, this blog post will discuss several methods to limit the amount of your data available online for data brokers. These methods range from simple Internet maintenance to downloading third party apps and extensions that inform you what companies are tracking the sites we visit and provide options for stopping this tracking.

The easiest is to delete your browser’s cookies and data every time you finish browsing. To do so, go to your browser’s preferences and go to the “Privacy” section. In this section select either “clear browsing data” or “remove all website data” to remove cookies. Deleting cookies breaks the link between the user and the cookie identifier assigned to the computer. Yet this doesn’t stop the tracking because, upon the next browse, the server will assume a new person has visited the site and re-assign a cookie value. And some cookies can get around deletion entirely. Flash cookies, a newer type of cookie, allows for the “re-spawning” of cookies, which allows companies to reinstate deleted cookies. Still, deleting your cookies and browser data is a helpful method to cut down on tracking and to free up data on your computer.

Browsers also have options to opt out of tracking on the browser. These options are still located in the Preferences > Privacy tabs of the browser. However opting out has limits, and opting out of one company’s data mining doesn’t prevent another company from mining your data. On Google Chrome, you can have Chrome send a “Do Not Track” request with your browsing traffic. On Safari, under “Privacy” options choose to block cookies and other website data from third parties and advertisers and also select “Ask Websites Not to Track Me.” However, as Chrome’s pop up states after selecting “Do Not Track,” a request is sent while browsing. This doesn’t guarantee that tracking will stop, just that a request is sent. Chrome’s “Do Not Track” pop up even states “many websites will still collect your browsing data.” Again despite their limited effectiveness these are the best methods to reduce data collection without using third party programs.

Third party programs are the most effective methods of reducing data tracking. These programs will let you know who is tracking your data and give you options to stop the tracking. The two most effective programs that I found are Ghostery and Disconnect. Ghostery is an extension that allows users to decide which tracking companies to trust and which ones to block, giving users more control over what companies gets their information. When you click on the Ghostery widget on your browser, it will tell you which companies are tracking the site you are on and allow you to shut them off. The only real downside to Ghostery is that users must manually select the trackers they want to block. Because there are hundreds and hundreds of trackers consumers most likely do not know which ones to block. Ghostery compliments this by providing details about the various trackers on each site, so consumers can inform themselves about which tracking companies are present before shutting them off.

Disconnect is similar to Ghostery but acts in an opposite way, automatically shutting down third party trackers that collect and retain data while allowing first party trackers to operate. Disconnect groups trackers into four categories: Advertising, Analytics, Social, and Content. The Content section is not automatically blocked because this could affect what content the webpage you visit shows, but these trackers can also be turned off. By blocking these trackers these apps allow for greater consumer data management and increase browser performance by removing said trackers.

Data tracking has become a profitable and stealthy marketing system that takes advantage of user data to advertise to consumers. With the methods listed above, you the consumer can start to take back control of your private information.

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