Similar to how your body symbolizes your identity in the actual world, your informational footprint on the Internet does the same. The same way that someone may be able to uniquely identify you by observing a portion of your body, such as the location of the device you’re posting from or the pattern of your language, they may also be able to do so by observing a portion of your information footprint. Anything you wouldn’t do in public, don’t do online.

Your Browser Is Always Being Tracked

The majority of web browsers include “private browsing” or “incognito” modes, but those labels can be misleading because the websites and services you visit can still track your online actions and identify you based on your IP address, browser settings, and browsing history (via cookies). Uniquely identifiable information still escapes even when you use a tool like an anonymization proxy to mask your IP address and the timestamps on your communications, such as your browser’s settings, cookies, or the data you provide when making a query-by-example request. A certain amount of data is sent automatically to a website whenever you view it. Typically, businesses use the data that is automatically collected for legal purposes, such as creating statistics about their websites. The organizations can gain a better understanding of the site’s popularity and the most popular content areas by evaluating the statistics. With the use of this data, they might be able to change the website so that it better accommodates visitors’ actions.

All Websites Utilize Cookies

All websites employ cookies to gather your data, including your browsing habits and the websites you’ve visited. The website may use the knowledge of other websites or pages you have visited through cookies to promote particular products. The products could be sold by affiliate sites or on the same website. But if a website is malicious, files on your computer and passwords kept in the temporary memory may be at risk. Note that the quickest approach for attackers to access personal information is to ask for it, even though employing cookies may be one way to gather information. Attackers may be able to persuade you to give them your address, credit card details, social security number, or other sensitive information by posing as a trustworthy website.

What Information Do They Track?

Some information gathered by cookies and other means include:

IP address—An individual, distinctive IP (internet protocol) address is given to each computer connected to the internet. Both static and dynamic IP addresses are possible for your machine. A static IP address is one that never changes. A dynamic IP address is one that some ISPs, who own a block of addresses, assign to you each time you connect to the internet. Domain name—Every user’s account is connected to one of the several domains that make up the internet. Examining the URL’s tail will reveal the domain; for example, .edu indicates an educational institution, .gov indicates a US government agency, .org refers to organization, and .com is for commercial use. Additionally, many nations have distinctive domain names. Page visits—The company running the website is frequently informed about the pages you visited, how long you spent on each one, and whether you arrived there via a search engine. Software details—An organization might be able to identify the browser you used to access its website, including the version. The company might also be able to tell what software is installed on your computer.

Some Sites Might Gather Your Data for Malicious Purposes

Language models, speaker identification, facial recognition, location correlation, activity modeling, and other retrieval techniques can be used to link anonymized users to their real identities with a high degree of accuracy. It isn’t always necessary to use such sophisticated techniques. If there is even the slightest connection between an online identity and your real identity, someone can submit a query using a single identifier, like a name, phone number, or email address, to a for-profit data-broker service that gathers data from a variety of sources, and that service will provide them with a complete personal profile, which may include a person’s home address, income level, or other information. Attackers might be able to take advantage of files, passwords, or personal information on your computer if they gain access to it. Your identity could be stolen by the attackers, who would then use and abuse your personal data to their financial advantage. Attackers frequently use this kind of information just once or twice before selling or trading it to others. The attackers make money from the purchase or trade, and as the volume of transactions rises, it becomes harder to identify their involvement in any activity. The attackers might also change your computer’s security settings to gain access and utilize it for other nefarious purposes.

Provide Personal Information With Caution

Don’t provide your address, password, or credit card information to a website unless you trust it. Look for signs that the website encrypts your information using SSL.Although some websites (like those for banks and credit cards) ask for your social security number, you should be extremely cautious when disclosing this information online. Give out only the necessary amount of personal information. Ask yourself what they need the information for before you enter any information online or grant an app or service access to information about you. If the business or service provider does not require that information to deliver the service you require, either withhold the information from them, provide them with fictitious information, or find another way to obtain the service.

Browse Smarter and Never Let Your Guard Down

When conducting business online, always assume that your anonymity and privacy are being compromised. Be cautious of the websites you visit; if something appears off, leave the page. Increase your security settings, keep your virus definitions current, and scan your machine for malware as further measures. Don’t grant cold callers remote access to your computer, since they might be able to access sensitive information without your knowledge, you wouldn’t know until it is too late. Use tools that limit the ability of websites to track your online activity, but keep in mind that no tool can completely prevent tracking or handle all potential tracking techniques. This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters. © 2022 Arthur Dellea

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