You want to buy a watch for yourself and you decide to buy it online. You then decide to visit all the e-commerce websites to get the best offer. You navigate through Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal and all other websites to find the right watch. While you are shopping, you get a notification as your friend is messaging you and now to switch to Facebook on another tab. While you are chatting with her, you see an advertisement at the bottom of the exact same watch that you are looking for ! What ? How did Facebook come to know which watch You want ? You’re astonished. This is just a tip of the ice berg and now you would want to watch your clicks as you are being tracked and your privacy is compromised while you navigate the Internet.
As discussed earlier, advertising networks use tools to track your online behavior. These tools can be anything as simple as your IP Address or as complex as a Cookie. Most of the time the sites you are visiting do tell you that they are using 3rd Party Cookies on their site, and you right away close that pop up and continue to navigate the website. And that’s where these advertisement networks start following you. They’ll know your browsing pattern, the products which you like and thus the next time you visit a website this ad network will serve you an advert relevant to the products you saw on the previous website.
Apart from tracking cookies, the most common way to track your browsing pattern while you navigate the web is by extracting data from HTTP Header. So what exactly is HTTP Header? When you open a website, your browser sends a request that contains the host name of your PC, the IP address, browser, Operating System etc which together is known as the HTTP Header. Now lets say you are browsing Facebook and you navigate to other website from Facebook. So in this case the HTTP Header will contain a field called Referrer, which in this case will be Facebook. With HTTP Headers these 3rd party tracking firms can get sensitive information about you. It may be your date of birth, gender, city or anything else.
So how can you protect yourself from being tracked ?
- There are a lot of plugins available that help you protect yourself online. You could look for something of that kind in your browser’s store. Some of these are pretty helpful by the biggest downside is that you have to white-list all the websites you navigate frequently.
- Lastly, the best way to protect yourself would be to use a VPN – Virtual Private Network or a Proxy Server. There are many free VPN services like CyberGhost available online which help protect yourself. These service act as a filter between you and the internet. So every request you send will first pass their server and then go to the internet. What happens in the process is that your IP address is shielded from other websites as these websites will see the IP address of the VPN server and not yours and with this you can easily navigate the internet without any worry.
So now you know that you are being spied upon every time you click a link and navigate to a new website. And you are also aware of the ways in which these websites gather your sensitive information. Further you even know some basic tips to protect yourself online. So go ahead and employ these methods to prevent yourself from being tracked while you happily navigate the internet.
This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.