5 ways to reduce ID tracking online
Social networks and other sites that have your personal information are gathering data on your Web browsing. Here's how to regain some privacy.
This post comes from Jennifer Valentino-DeVries at partner site The Wall Street Journal.
There's a well-known saying, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." But it's getting increasingly harder to stay completely anonymous on the Web, as a Page One article in Saturday's Wall Street Journal shows.
So, how do you avoid having your browsing linked to your real identity online? It's pretty difficult, assuming you want to use the Internet like a normal person. But there are a few steps you can take.
1. Log out of social networks when browsing and clear cookies.
All those little "Like" buttons and other social networking technologies across the Web can inform the parent company of your browsing habits whenever you encounter them. This is true even if you don't actually click the button.
To avoid this tracking, make sure to sign out from the social network before doing any Web browsing. Logging out requires more than simply leaving the Facebook.com or Twitter.com page. It means finding the site's logout option. (On Facebook, for instance, it's in the upper right corner of the page, behind the little triangle.)
You can also clear cookies from social networks by looking in the settings in your Web browser.
Facebook, Google and Twitter all say they don't track social networking users' Web browsing history for advertising purposes. Twitter uses your Web browsing to suggest other users to follow. You can opt out of this tracking by going to your basic account settings, scrolling down and unchecking the box that says "Tailor Twitter based on my recent website visits." Twitter also honors "Do Not Track" settings available in a lot of recent Web browsing software.
2. Use a service to help you avoid social tracking.
There are several browser add-ons that stop social networks and other sites that have your personal information from gathering data on your Web browsing habits. These add-ons are small programs that you can download and attach to your Web browser.
One such program, Disconnect, is specifically aimed at blocking code from companies that also have your personally identifiable information.
3. Use disposable email addresses.
If you want to sign up for newsletters or for accounts that require an email address, but you don't want that address to be used to track you, you should consider disposable addresses.
There are several services available. Some provide temporary addresses that expire after a matter of minutes. Others allow longer-lasting addresses and forward email to a specified account.
Depending on your email provider, you might also be able to add a plus sign and a word or phrase to your existing email address. For example, email@example.com will get forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org, allowing you to use many different "name+" combinations when you sign up for services online. It's true that it would be easy for a program to identify you by discarding anything after the plus sign, but it's currently unlikely that most services would expend the effort.
For example, you can allow sites you trust to use the technology, but you can block tracking companies when you're submitting sensitive information you don't want to share.
5. Use a fake name.
Finally, remember that in many cases, there is no rule that says you need to use your real or full name online. We're not advocating fraud: People you're buying something from might need to have your actual information, for example. But think about what you enter into forms online, and if you don't need to use real, personally identifiable information, don't do it.
More on The Wall Street Journal and MSN Money:
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