Surprise! You’re Being Tracked!

Pop Quiz, Hot-Shot:

Who knows more about you than anyone?

a) Your mom

b) Your best friend

c) Your dog

d) None of the above

If you guessed a, b, or c, sorry buddy; you’re wrong.

The answer is d, none of the above. But the answer could have been “Google” and it would have still been correct.

Oh, what’s that you say?

You don’t have a Gmail, Youtube, or Google+ account?

Doesn’t matter, they still can track you

You use a different browser like Firefox?

Guess what! Don’t matter worth a dime, they can still track you.

Google can track you whether or not you have a Gmail account and regardless of whether or not you use Chrome or a different browser. The fact is that if you are the typical, unconcerned-about-privacy (I mean who do you think I am? Edward Snowden?) internet user, they can, in theory anyway, track your every move.

And Just What Does Big G Know About You (and me and everybody else)?

Well to start off, if you hold a Gmail account, they know your date of birth and your address. If you simply use Google for search, they know about your inclination to go with pizza over sushi based on your search preferences. Google also knows about that time you didn’t have enough money to pay rent so you searched for “What to do when you don’t have enough money in your account.’’

Big G would be able to know what field you work in by looking at the companies you researched before sending them your resume. And if you have your docs stored in Google Drive, it could hypothetically, know about all the information stored there. It has recorded every Youtube video you’ve ever watched and it knows about your upcoming meeting with your son’s principal because you put it on to your Gmail calendar.

And you can’t assume that you are okay if you don’t have a Gmail account and don’t use it to search. The fact is that an undisclosed number of emails are simply routed through their servers even if they don’t originate from Gmail accounts and are not being sent to Gmail accounts ether.

Lest you think you are playing it safe by using FireFox or Safari, know that those browsers check each site you request against Google’s own list of “safe” websites before it takes you to your destination and therefore your searches are being tracked there as well.

Leap of Faith

True enough, you say, because anytime you use a service you’re taking a leap of faith and giving over information. And that is valid – we all have to place trust in people other than our moms, best friends and dogs (okay, dogs aren’t people, but you know what we mean) at times to get what we want. Each time you hand a waiter your credit card at a restaurant, you’re doing so on the good faith that he won’t run out and buy a Porsche on it right before he gives it back to you. So too, Google provides users with some great features and services and in some cases, in order to get that experience, we need to share some information with them.

Google as the Advertiser

The thing is that if you are going to be concerned about internet security, you need to think about internet privacy as well.

Google may have started as a humble search engine but it has become one of the largest and most lucrative advertisers in the world. According to tech website minterest.com “Google’s majority revenue comes from two advertising platforms — Google AdWords and Google AdSense. In fact, 96% of Google’s revenue is from advertising.” AdWords and AdSense deliver targeted content to potential customers and in Google’s own words “Our proprietary technology automatically matches ads to the content of the page on which they appear, and advertisers pay us either when a user clicks on one of its ads or based on the number of times their ads appear on the Google Network.”

Aha – So now we get it. We are being tracked so companies can make money off of us.

According to Martin Brinkmann of GHacks.net “Tracking is an essential part of online advertising. The more advertising companies know about users who visit web pages and services they display ads on, the better targeted advertisements can be displayed to those users.” So now you know why you were bombarded with ads for other brands of dog food after you researched the best price for a king size bag of Alpo for Queen Sophie last week.

Even Worse than Cortana…

If the idea of adware and other nasties tracking you is bothersome, then don’t keep your head in the sand about your online privacy either. Heck, we all went crazy when Microsoft introduced Windows 10 and Cortana with all her data-munching capabilities – At least Microsoft’s EULA allows you to opt-out of most of the invasive features therein.

Blindly allowing yourself to be tracked you because “Hey, what choice do I have?” is akin to turning your antimalware system off because you feel like you can’t beat the nasties. But just as you know that you can protect yourself from malware with the right program and safety habits in place, you can stop at least some of the tracking that is inherent in Google-land.

Here are some tips to maintain your privacy:

  • Use a secure browser. The name Tor comes up a lot when people talk about browsers and privacy but it may not be the best choice for everyone. Techworld.com has a great article profiling 7 secure browsers that dont track your every move.
  • Install adblocking software. As we wrote about last week, online ads, powered by Google follow your every move and can be laced with malware to boot.
  • Clear your cookies on a regular basis
  • Run RCS to clean out all spyware and tracking tools that were previously installed
  • Use a secure search engine like DuckDuckGo. According to ZDnet, DuckDuckGo and other secure search engines do not store your data or send your search terms to other sites like typical search engines do.
  • Use an anti-tracking tool like Ghostery that shows how you are being tracked and can block trackers as well.

Any other tips you recommend to keep from being tracked by Google on the Web?

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