Dozens of firms are invisibly tracking you online. Here's how to hide from them

Posted by Admin On Wednesday, 26 March 2014 1 comments
Ten years ago it would have been a shocking to discover that an American company was spying on practically everyone in Britain. Now, it's totally accepted as the norm. In return for free web-based services, we've sleepwalked into waiving our right to privacy.
But is there any way we can opt out?
It’s not pleasant knowing that you are being watched all the time, but often we forget. It’s only occasionally we get that niggling creepy feeling when an ad is just a little too accurate. A classic example is that advertisers often know that a woman is pregnant before she tells her family, just by observing her web-browsing habits. Sometimes this goes even further – abortion providers have used similar targeting to find young women who might be looking for pregnancy advice.
Once I started looking into this, one thing that shocked me right away was just how much I was being tracked. Using a tool called Collusion, I was able to see how many companies were mining my data. In my case, 87 firms were keeping tabs on my every move. While the usual suspects – Facebook and Google – were there, I'd never heard of most of these firms.
There's an enormous ecosystem of companies that do nothing but sift your data, draw conclusions from it, and then sell it on. The way they do this is by comparing multiple data points. So, for example, if you visit the The Spectator, it suggests you are a well-educated, wealthy consumer. If you later browse online for nice men's leather walking boots, it confirms you may be wealthy, and like the outdoors. You're now one click onFarmer's Guardian away from being of value to people selling online tractor ads.
Of course, it's not an exact science – and it can lead to wildly different results across devices. For example, a friend of mine is a police officer who seizes criminal property. Her work desktop assumes she's a louche playboy because of all the yacht and sports car prices she googles, while her personal smartphone assumes she's a teenage girl because of all of the nail art sites she visits in her spare time.
However, the sheer volume of data collected means it's hard to spoof – and unless your results are regularly quite extreme, it will be fairly accurate. Equally, with location services able to see where you are, and web-based emails quite capable of reading the text of your messages, a concerted manual spoofing attempt would be time consuming and probably pointless.
You don't have to do it manually, though. Just as there's an ecosystem of ads, there's an ecosystem dedicated to delivering an untracked online experience. The untraceable web browser Tor is probably the most famous, but there are services that offer an untracked experience in all spheres.
Here’s a list of services you can use to hide your tracks online, from security firm Abine:
Internet Service Provider (ISP): Sonic
Wireless provider: Cricket
Encrypt an email account you already have: Thunderbirdwith Enigmail, Mac Mail with GPGTools, Outlook withGPG4Win
Private email clients: UnspyableCountermail, or Shazzle
Search engines: Ixquick and DuckDuckGo
Mobile calls: RedPhoneSilent Circle
Android proxy: Orbot
iOS proxy: FoxyProxy (configure it as a proxy, not a VPN)
Mobile photos: ObscuraCam
Text messaging: TextSecure
Online tracker blocking: our very own DNTMe
Web-based chatting: Adium with OTR, Cryptocat
Mobile chatting: ChatSecure (iOS) Virtual private networks (VPNs): iVPNPrivate Wifi
Hard drive encryption: TrueCrypt
Web browser: Tor Browser (and Mozilla’s Firefox is the best major browser for privacy)
Mobile browser: Onion Browser (iOS), Orweb (Android)
That list should give you pause – if you aren't using one of the untraceable services for that function, then your data is probably being sifted and sold by a mainstream provider. The drawback is that many of these services are fiddly to use and require a degree of tech savvy to set up properly. Without going to all that trouble, you can use blanket tools like DoNotTrackMe or Disconnect, but of course, they won’t prevent everything. They are probably the best tools to block tracking through your smartphone use.
So, it turns out you can beat Google – it just takes a bit of work.


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