5 Tips for Protecting Your Privacy

Although there is no single step that effectively blocks unwanted tracking on the internet, there are some steps you can take to help prevent it, and we asked independent researcher and consultant Ashkan Soltani for five tips to protect your privacy. Here they are below.

1) Ad Industry Opt-Out

The industry would have you opt-out of tracking using industry opt-out websites like the DAA/NAI ad choices webpage or individual sites like Google's Ad Preferences Manager, which also lets you see what categories Google thinks you belong in. Sadly though, many of the third-party trackers you encounter online aren't a part of the Digital Advertising Association or Network Advertising Initiative, which means you won't have a way to op-out from their tracking tools. Additionally, even if you opt-out, the fine print often still allows the third party to track you for non-advertising purposes, such as website analytics or security.

2) Internet Browser Settings

Most web browsers provide the option to prevent third party tracking by blocking third-party cookies. Unfortunately this setting isn't turned on by default for most browsers and users need to dig for the option in their browser settings. The location of the setting will vary between browsers but it's usually listed under the privacy settings for each browser.

Safari users are in luck since this setting is enabled by default for them. Also, while you're in the browser settings, you might want to enable the 'Do Not Track' option. While this setting doesn't block tracking, it does notify websites and third parties of your preference and hopefully one day (with some cooperation or legislation), they will respect your wishes and not track you. Until then, it's like voting with your browser!

3) Privacy Plugins

There are a number of plugins that help users manage their privacy, as well as see what sites are tracking them. In no particular order, Disconnect, Ghostery and Lightbeam all allow users to see and block the third parties that track them online. The Electronic Frontier Foundation also has a new plug-in called Privacy Badgerfor Mozilla and Chrome, although it's still in a very early Alpha development stage. Finally, there's also AdBlock and AdBlock Plus for users that want to block annoying ads in addition to third-party trackers - something that not only makes your browser more private, but also loads pages quicker, too.

4) Logging-out / Private Browsing Mode

The steps above will all help users block third parties from tracking them as they browse websites like NYTimes.com and ABCNews.com, but they often still allow Facebook, Twitter, and even Google to track you as you browse, since you're typically signed into these services. In order to prevent a first party like Facebook from tracking you - even when you're not visiting Facebook.com - you need to make sure that you're not signed in when you're browsing. You can even go one step further and use either a separate browser or enable your browser's "Private Browsing" (or "Incognito") mode so your social network activity or search history isn't linked to your browsing activity. The key here is to break the link between your identity on these social networks with your browsing behavior on NYTimes.com.

5) (Physical) In-Store Tracking

Your activity in stores is also tracked and often linked to your activity online. Similar to the online world, there's still no comprehensive way to stop in-store tracking fully. A few of the physical world trackers have put together a smart store opt-out website but similar to the online opt-out, only a handful of vendors are currently participating. Plus it involves giving the opt-out website even more info about your device - something consumers might balk at.

In the interim, it's best to put your phone into 'Airplane Mode' while you shop or simply avoid stores that employ retail tracking all together.

Oh and make sure to skip that loyalty card (or at least use a different email address to register). Most companies use the information you provide to the loyalty program to sync up your purchases to your online activity!

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