If you’re one of the 2.8B people that uses Facebook and are at least somewhat privacy-centric, I urge you to check out Facebook’s new Off-Facebook Activity settings option. For me, it was found within the Your Facebook Information section. There wasn’t too much within it for me, but The Hacker News’s Mohit Kumar wrote about his experience with this and there were over 1,000 apps and websites that shared his activities. What about you?
This is somewhat nerve wracking knowing that our online activities are harvested for marketing purposes. From online shopping to who knows what website you may visit; many web content providers are sharing your information with Facebook. As Facebook’s informational web page about this service states, “These ads are what make most of the Internet available free of charge, including Facebook.” Isn’t that ever so true, if any product is free of charge then you, as in the user, are the product.
From a different perspective, it isn’t all terrible. If you’re in the market for a deal, it definitely is nice to have an ad appear with a discount for said object(s). That’s the trade-off though – an aggregated analysis of your browsing habits in exchange for personalized ads. I’ll let you be the judge if that’s worth it or not, to you of course.
What’s most troublesome is that users don’t directly have control of this happening behind the scenes. To some extent we are able to minimize our usage of websites we visit by reading through the privacy and information usage policies of every website we visit. This is a tedious task though, unrealistic, and very time consuming. It’s easier to just agree with whatever is presented and not read it beforehand.
If you’re serious about privacy though, there are ways to semi-stop online tracking, but you have to actively search that out. It’s not a foolproof way to stop all tracking but can be worth putting in the time to set it up. Here is a resource from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) talking about Adblocker Plus browser plugin, how to change your cookies settings, disabling HTTP referers (yes, it is misspelled), and another a browser add-on by the name of HTTPS Everywhere.
As for other resources, EnigmaSoft published a blog with a great infographic detailing how your data is gathered and the process it goes through to reach the hands of whoever wants it. In addition, they explain Search Engine Tracking (storage of search queries), suggest utilizing some browsers’ Do Not Track feature (though companies are not required to honor this request), provide additional browser plugin options such as Ghostery and DisconnectMe, recommend opting out of information whenever available, and adjusting privacy setting on mobile devices. And just to provide one more resource, Gear Patrol provides some similar suggestions (such as using browser plugins/add-ons) but go the extra mile by suggesting VPNs (which is fairly common) as well as using TAILS (which isn’t as common and would require more from a user).
That said, and from my perspective, if privacy is huge for you, stay away from mainstream content and explore all settings options that you can in whatever product or service you use. For instance, take some time to familiarize yourself with the settings options that your web browser provides. Take a moment to go through your installed mobile apps and remove any that you don’t really use anymore, or at the very least check out the permission requirements. Lastly, I wouldn’t directly suggest jumping to TAILS or the likes unless you’re dead set on not divulging any information about yourself onto the public Internet, but it sure sounds promising that it can make it that much more difficult to be tracked. The user experience may not be all that great though, considering it runs on a USB device, but it definitely is an option.