The World Wide Web is wonderful, especially if you are in the business of data collection and marketing. Every time you, the average Web user, go online to search, buy something or watch a video, your actions are recorded. Then the tech giants package this up, and after several hops, you see ads based on what you were doing.
It’s important to remember that security and privacy are two different things when we are talking about web browsing. While your browsing can be very secure, i.e. your personal information is safe from theft, maintaining anonymity in your web navigation requires additional work.
Tracking is the main hindrance to web privacy. For example, you visit the Weather Channel website and then go to Facebook. Facebook knows that you were at the Weather Channel site first, and displays ads based on this. Watch a YouTube video and then do a Google Search, and the display you get in Search may reflect the video you watched.
The good news is that all modern web browsers have some form of tracking prevention.
Tracking prevention means that when a website tries to follow your tracks, the browser disallows it. You can use usually see what tracking sites were avoided by clicking on the small icon in the browser toolbar (next to the URL entry field) that looks like a shield. This should show you a dropdown with details of what trackers have been thwarted. If you don’t see the shield, go into Preferences or Settings in your browser and look for the Privacy and Security section. There will probably be settings for the level of tracking protection you want, and the Medium setting is usually sufficient. Any higher and some website features may not work. Pick a lower setting and you may get tracked unnecessarily.
The other thing you want to pay attention to is what permissions your browser has with regards to the settings on your computer. Can it access the camera and microphone if a website requests it? How about the location settings if a website wants to determine that? Again, in the Settings or Preferences area of your browser, look for a Permissions section. You want to have this set to NOT allow websites to access resources on your computer such as location. If they are allowed to do this, they can use that as a datapoint to then track your behavior along with what websites you visit, what you search for, etc.
Last, consider adding a privacy extension to your browser. Extensions are small add-on programs available for most browsers that help to block invasions of privacy. These can be as simple as an ad-blocker (so ads aren’t shown as you browse) to an extension that not only blocks ads, but also makes your browsing even more anonymous. For an ad-blocker, consider uBlock Origin, and for a privacy extension, good ones are Ghostery and Privacy Badger. All are free.
The saying that there is no free lunch applies to the World Wide Web. While most websites cost nothing to visit, their real cost may come from an intrusion into your privacy. Knowing what precautions you have at your disposal and employing them can reduce, and perhaps eliminate, that hidden cost.