Understanding browser tracking
Whenever you use the Internet, you leave a record of the websites you visit, along with each and every thing you click. To track this information, many websites save a small piece of data—known as a cookie—to your web browser. In addition to cookies, many websites can use your user accounts to track browsing activity. While this type of browser tracking doesn’t pose a serious risk to your online security, it’s important to understand how your online data is tracked and used.
Why do websites track browsing activity?
There are many reasons a website might track your browsing activity. In some cases, it’s simply to make your browsing experience faster and more convenient. But this data can also be used to determine your browsing habits and preferences—information that is frequently used by advertisers in determining what ads to show you online. Here are a few common examples of when a website might track your online activity.
- Video sites like YouTube and Netflix collect information on the videos you watch, which helps them suggest more videos you might like.
- Online stores like Amazon and eBay keep a record of the different items you view and purchase, which helps them suggest other products you may want to buy.
- Search engines like Google keep a record of the things you search for. This can help them suggest more relevant searches, but it can also be used for advertising purposes. For example, if you search for a coffeemaker on Google, you might see ads for coffeemakers on other websites in the future.
How do cookies work?
Should I be worried about cookies?
Generally speaking, cookies don’t pose a serious risk to your online security—you’re unlikely to acquire malware or expose sensitive financial information by using cookies. Still, if you don’t like the idea of websites collecting information about you this way, there are options for limiting cookie tracking on your computer.
How to avoid cookie tracking
There are a few different ways to avoid cookie tracking. Some websites actually give you the option to disable cookie tracking on their site, although this may also disable certain site features.
If you want to opt out of cookies entirely, you could try enabling the Do Not Track setting in your browser. Most web browsers disable this feature by default, but it can usually be activated from the privacy settings.
Note that participation in the Do Not Track program is voluntary, so some sites may not honor this request. If you’d prefer to avoid cookies altogether, you could use a private browsing mode whenever you go online. This will prevent any cookies from being saved to your web browser.
Even if you never allow websites to store cookies, there are other ways your browsing habits can be tracked. For example, when you create an account with a site like Facebook or Google, you’re also giving them permission to track and save information on your activity. Instead of saving this information in a cookie, it’s stored by the company and associated with your account.
In many cases, this information is then provided to third-party advertisers, who can use this information to deliver personalized ads across the Internet. And while you can usually disable these tracking settings, they will be enabled by default.