There it is, your favorite pub; the one you have visited several times a week since you started this job three years ago.
As you walk in, you are greeted by many friendly faces, all of which not only call you by name, but ask about your day with sincerity. Without even skipping a beat the bartender starts preparing your favorite drink to wash down the juicy bacon cheeseburger the cook already started preparing.
The following week you take a work trip to a city which you have yet to visit. After work, you head out to a local, top rated pub you found on Foursquare, eager to compare to your pub back home.
You walk in and, suddenly, you hear someone call your name. As you look over you see the bartender waving you over with a drink in her hand. With a curious look on your face you sit down, take a sip and realize it is your favorite drink. As you are about to ask how the bartender knows not only your name, but also your favorite drink, suddenly a plate appears right in front of you as the cook says, “Enjoy your bacon cheeseburger, Justin.”
This is exactly what advertisers and other companies do every single day.
Unless you are taking measures to prevent it, everything you do is not only tracked online, but is easily discoverable by anyone with a little detective work and time.
“90% of what I used to do by going out into the field, knocking on doors and looking through musty archives, I can do, uh, sitting at home in my underpants, drinking a beer.”
In the first episode of IRL, a podcast by Mozilla, Steven Rambam explains that privacy is basically nonexistent and describes how easy it is to get information about a person, simply because that person is over sharing.
While individual users may be half the reason anyone can know their name and find information, the other half is the large companies spying on users by deploying various kinds of tracking through not only the browser, but also your phone and many IoT devices.
In a recent episode of Reply All, they discussed the possibility that Facebook is using the microphone to spy on users and deliver advertisements based on what users are saying. Even if it is not the case (which Facebook exclaims), it is still crazy to hear how much Facebook tracks you.
None of this is news to me, but I can guarantee I have many friends and family to which this would be a shock.
So how can you keep this tracking to a minimum?
There are many ways to stay anonymous online. From the drastic measure of completely eliminating your online life (not feasible), to deploying a number of practices to prevent companies from tracking your (sounds exhausting).
Here are some of the main ways I prevent tracking online:
- Use a VPN.
- Use a content blocker, like 1Blocker.
- Log out of everything and block cookies, where possible.
- Limit sharing on social media sites.
Now, none of this will completely erase the history which may already exist for a person online, but it is definitely a step in the right direction.
If you are extremely concerned about privacy, you can even use a browser which can provide complete anonymity, if used correctly.