Once you go online, your personal information and online activities are stored for a very long time. Your broadband provider, browser, and yes, even the government — if need be, can hop in and track your activities! As long as you’re on the internet, you’re never really free from tracking.
Because of this, popular websites and applications are working on boosting user confidence by providing the option to keep their activities private. Some internet providers are also doing the same for their plans. Usually, they’re not turned on by default. But if you ever need it, you can always fiddle with it in the settings.
Some applications even go as far as advertising them with such security and privacy features! The caveat is, some of these ads are just that — marketing ploys. While you can toggle them off, they can still track your activities secretly without your permission.
So how exactly are these apps tracking your activities without you knowing and how can you prevent them from doing it? Read on to find out.
Apps and websites track your data in a variety of ways — and they can be real sneaky about it! Even if you disabled every tracking setting, they can still track your activities through the permissions that you’ve allowed these apps to access. Here’s how they do it.
Have you ever wondered what these cookies are? These are used to track, personalise, and save all information you’ve encoded during your session. A session is defined as the time you’ve spent on the website.
GPS is useful for a lot of things — be it monitoring your location or for navigation. However, it can also be used to track your activities. They use GPS along with some help from your IP address to get a rough estimate of your geo-location.
Apps use this to target ads and products available in your country. Although, it can be dangerous because it can tell your location down to your house number! This is very dangerous not only online but also in the real world! Someone with bad intentions may take advantage of this data and track your address.
Once you’ve turned on permissions for camera, speakers, and microphones, apps can use them whenever you open their apps. Depending on the permissions you’ve allowed, they can have access to these even when you don’t open their apps!
This is very scary because they may be able to see your face, hear your voice, and record your conversations. As long as the app is trusted, this may not be as big of a deal. However, you never know which apps have sketchy practices that can sell your personal information, or worse, use it against you.
One prime example are Instant Loan apps that may provide easy cash assistance, but the catch is, they can access borrowers' files, photos, emails, and contact lists. Failure to pay means socially shaming these borrowers, with the lender reaching out and harassing people on their contacts list.
Another very personal information that you’re using every day is face recognition and fingerprint scanner biometrics on your phone, laptops, and tablets! Usually, this is secured on the local storage or security memory of your device.
When you’ve allowed permission for your local storage, you risk compromising these biometrics securities as well as your photos, music, videos, documents, and more. While most devices have security features to counterattack these trespasses, some manufacturers aren’t so keen on utilising these features for data privacy.
Now that you know how these trackers access your online activities, personal data, and other identifiable information, what exactly do they want to want from you? Why do they track you and what do they actually get from doing it? It’s simple — your data!
Most websites generate revenue from selling your data to different companies, These brands usually use this for marketing and advertising purposes. However, there’s always a risk of data compromise especially if these companies are not careful about your information.
What’s more, there’s also a risk of hackers tapping into the database of companies and involving your information in fraudulent and illegal activities.
Most apps have some sort of trackers, but there are just others that are just notorious for doing so. Note that these apps aren’t all bad — but if you truly want to protect your personal data, you'll need to be extra careful when using these.
Google is notorious for data tracking and storing! That’s why you can see ads about cars even if you've only searched it once. With their wide range of services, you can see these ads even when you go to YouTube or Gmail. To be more careful, you can always read through the settings and turn off these tracking processes and permissions per service or application.
LastPass — a password management application — has been under fire recently because of their tracking practices. By default, they have seven embedded trackers for your activities. However, their spokesperson assured that no sensitive identifiable data is tracked. Also, they give you the option to turn off tracking in the settings.
WhatsApp is one of the most popular messenger applications in New Zealand. It has angered many users because of several online warnings about their end-to-end encryption. While they now promise top securities and ethical practices, there are other messaging apps you can confidently use, such as Telegram.
Facebook has always been accused of tracking your every move. It’s true for the most part, that’s why you see targeted ads according to your preferences. This is also true for their other services including Facebook Messenger, Facebook Gaming, and more. Like any other apps, these trackers are on by default but you can turn them off in the settings.
As mentioned, you can always go to the settings and turn them off manually. This is one of the easiest and foolproof ways to stop them from tracking you. Of course, you can also go to your device settings and review the permission of each app.
Otherwise, some practices and methods can also give you the confidence that your personal identifiable information is private and secured. Check out some of them right here.
To top off your security privacy, get a paid VPN service. This tunnels and encrypts your connection to avoid tracking your device. This is also great for ensuring you’re protected against some hidden trackers that you can’t easily disable.
As a rule of thumb, only use the paid version! Free VPN versions tend to do harm more than good. Instead of tunnelling and encrypting your connection, it may open your personal information to more vulnerable websites and applications.
If paying some extra bucks monthly are a bit too much for you, then look out for some alternatives. If you’re using WhatsApp, you may switch to Signal or iMessage. If you’re using Google as your default search engine, DuckDuckGo is a good alternative.
Of course, it’s best to conduct your research before putting your data in these alternative apps. Some may not outright track you but they may also be sneaky in their settings. Always disable permissions, especially if it’s not really needed for the app. For example, a photo editing app asking for access to your microphone is sketchy!
Your device’s security settings are your first line of defence against this data tracking. That’s why it’s important to get a device with security managers to protect your data. The recent iOS 14 has this feature embedded in their native settings, which shows if your camera or microphone is being accessed unknowingly.
Similarly, Samsung has recently released Knox to manage your security for you. It has all sorts of customisation and personalisation settings for optimum security. Other mobile and PC manufacturers may also have this feature, so make sure to check them out as well.
Nonetheless, get a mobile plan to match your secured and trusted device. Compare the best mobile phone plans in New Zealand, using CompareBear’s comparison tool.
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