For many of us, the only time we think about who's tracking our online habits is when a site seems to know more about us than we think it could.
There's a lot more going on under the surface, though, and anyone from marketers to employers to private investigators could have access to your browsing sessions if you don't take active countermeasures. Here are five tools that work quite well:
- Removing cookies and more. CCleaner is a great, free tool that you can use to wipe your computer of your browsing history, cookies, and other detritus. It won't solve the problem on its own, but it is almost essential to clear away the tools people can use to track you. Once you've installed and run it, select one or more of the following tools to make your browsing more secure. (One important note: if you reopen multiple tabs when starting your browser, you need to untick Session next to the options in your browser window or you will lose them all. Of course, that session info might be available to outsiders...)
- Opt out of tracking. This sounds like it's for chumps, but it can actually get legit marketing types and some others out of your life. PrivacyChoice offers several tools for different browsers including TrackerBlock and PrivacyMark, which let users warn sites that they don't want to be tracked. Of course, the decision to honor that preference is entirely up to the site owner, so you may want to step up your game.
- Private browsing. All major browsers have this feature these days, though some use different names: Chrome calls it "Incognito," IE calls it "InPrivate Browsing," and Opera calls it "Private Tab/Window." This mode keeps the browser from saving any data on your local machine, which is a great help. It's not perfect, though Web sites can still track you on their end by matching your IP address to their records. If you want to hide from them as well, try one of the following tools.
- Anonymous browsing using Tor. The Tor network uses multiple encrypted pathways to ferry your data back and forth without revealing your IP address or other information. To use it, you need to download the Tor Browser Bundle for Mac, Windows, or Linux. Different setups require different procedures, but you should end up with an anonymous, portable browser. Just pop it on a flash drive and use it anywhere.
- Anonymous browsing using proxies. Maybe you can't use the flash drive everywhere, or maybe you need to check out a site or two anonymously when Tor isn't an option. In that case, you can go through a proxy site that hides your home computer info in a different way. These sites are often migratory or subject to sudden downtimes, so it's best to go with an updated list like the one provided here by Tech-FAQ. Click any link, then enter the URL you want to visit. It's quite simple, if a bit less reliable then Tor.
No matter how far you go, it's important to remember that there's no such thing as perfect anonymity. If people really, really want to check out your browsing, and has the resources to back up that desire, they can probably find a way to do it. That doesn't mean you shouldn't make it hard for them, though!