Protecting Yourself from the Internet.

It’s time to face it: the internet is watching you. Have you ever noticed that if you search for a product online or if your e-mail inbox has a purchase confirmation that the advertising on certain pages reflects your preferences? For example, don’t be surprised to see advertising for Cabela’s or Sports Authority if you’ve recently bought sporting goods online.

Cookies.jpgInternet marketing and search engine optimization companies have capitalized on unique user input online and have worked diligently to produce user-specific, targeted advertising. While these forms of advertising may at first appear harmless, the real truth is that these acts and practices reach far further than behavior-based advertising and are monitoring your online activity every day.

Search engines and their affiliates are fully within their rights to monitor and evaluate the queries processed by their service. What marketer wouldn’t want to see the 10 most popular searches in the U.S. every year?

But it starts to become creepy when websites upload tracking cookies onto your computer. This usually happens without your knowledge and is disguised by the cookies that are actually beneficial, the ones that help websites load faster. Quite simply, these tracking cookies take your browsing history and navigation preferences and send them home to the third-party. Tracking cookies are not the well-known Trojan viruses and do not transmit keystrokes, but imagine this: the tracking cookie reports your search history and your IP address while you happen to be logged into Facebook. The third-party now knows exactly who you are and what you searched for. It’s up to the users to decide whether this practice is simply a nuisance or one that infringes on their online privacy.

Google is planning a new feature in their searches – the ability for users to “+1” a search result, indicating approval. It’s comparable to the “Like” button. Google isn’t even bothering to hide the fact that this “+1” feature will probably allow them to construct an even more accurate profile of who you are.

The good news is that the fight against tracking like this is gaining momentum.

You may have seen the most recent upgrades rolled out by popular internet browser developers. Yahoo, Mozilla and Microsoft have all implemented a “stop tracking me” feature in their latest browser versions.

To really free yourself from tracking requires doing more, according to Jonathan Mayer, principal researcher of Stanford’s Do Not Track.Us Project. While various blocking methods can disable or inconvenience your browsing of favorite pages, Stanford’s project adds a line of code to any piece of data transmitted from your computer in a tracking attempt, indicating that the user does not wish to be tracked. Mozilla and Microsoft have adopted the technology in their latest browsers, and Stanford’s goal is to have the FTC formally enforce this.

Telemarketers annoyed the U.S. public to a breaking point and the Do Not Call Registry was created. The issue of online tracking is boiling and it’s a matter of time before the people start to demand government regulation. Until then, here are some tips:

  • Research the issue to familiarize yourself with how you are being tracked. Start with The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s section on Online Behavioral Tracking.
  • Download the latest version of popular browsers and use their built-in Do Not Track feature. Mozilla Firefox 4.0 and Internet Explorer 9.
  • Always clear your search history and wipe your browser cookies. This can be done in your browser, but best if paired with more effective software. We suggest the proven, reliable and free Piriform CCleaner