Do you feel in control of your personal information online?
Do you know what a cookie is (no, not the delicious kind)?
Have you ever wondered why some content, like ads, seems to follow you around?
What is tracking?
Every time we go online, we leave behind traces of our activity. They’re often called our “digital footprints” and for good reason, because tracking is sort of like re-tracing our steps. But our digital footprints reveal more about us than where we’ve been — everything from our preferences to our identities.
Tracking in action
Let’s imagine a typical day online: you start by checking emails, maybe share a fun article you just read. At lunch, you check showtimes for a movie a friend recommended on Facebook and look up prices for some new camping gear you’ve had your eye on.
That’s only a few sites, but what’s happening behind the scenes is that many more “third-parties” — companies that are separate from the sites you’re visiting — are seeing and recording your activity.
So when you begin seeing recommended articles about that movie, or ads for that camping gear, later in the day, it’s no coincidence.
Be the boss of your personal info
There are many ways you can take back and maintain control of your online activity. Here are some important tips, hand-picked by Mozilla experts.
A lot goes on behind the scenes of the Internet. The more you know, the better you can decide what your information is worth to you.
Understand the hidden cost of free
We all like the appeal of “free” apps and online services but if you’re not paying for them, someone is, and what they’re buying may be the data you leave behind. Decide whether the information you share is worth the service you are receiving.
Shine a light on trackers
If you’re a Firefox user, be sure to check out Lightbeam, a simple and insightful add-on that visually graphs the depth of your browsing activity, including parts that are not usually visible to you.
Think before you click
When you see an element on a page, such as a “like” or social media login button, that’s an indication that some information has already been collected about you — clicking on it will share even more.
It’s easy to overlook the access to personal data that we might offer through online accounts and apps, but most offer settings that give you choice and control.
Delete your unused accounts
Your data might get sold when a service or app shuts down. If you don’t use it, close it.
Protect your profiles
Some services you interact directly with let you control the information they have about you. Look at any opportunity to change or control your profile, if offered. For example, you can manage your profile and preferences for Google, Yahoo! and Facebook ads, and even edit data that’s been collected about you by Acxiom, one of the world’s largest marketing data brokers.
Look to your browser
Most Web browsers offer a set of privacy features designed to give you control. Here are a few key ones that you can make use of.
Do Not Track
With this feature enabled, your browser will tell social sharing services, publishers, analytics providers, advertisers and third party networks that you want to opt-out of tracking.
Mozilla was the first company to include a Do Not Track feature when it was added to Firefox in 2011. Since then, it has been adopted by most major browsers, though many companies on the receiving end of the requests are still not honoring them. Efforts are being made by Web advocacy groups to have this changed.
Use Private Browsing to keep from having certain items about your browsing activity locally saved. These include your history, searches and cookies.
Here is how to use private browsing:
Share your tracking smarts
Now that you have some tools and the knowledge to protect yourself, spread the word to friends. The more everybody knows about tracking and how to protect their online data, the better off we’ll all be. Feel free to use the questions below to keep the conversation going!