87% of websites are Tracking You!
Find out what you can do about it
In This Article
• Many sites use some type of tracker
• Data is sold to advertising companies
• Free tool now available reveals trackers
• Should you be worried?
• Things you can do to protect yourself
• This site's use of trackers explained
According to a Washington Post article in September 2020, at least 87% of the most popular websites are using some form of digital tracking. These sites track you even if you're not logged in and can see your typing and mouse movement patterns.
The tracking companies build unique profiles based on the websites you visit and your behavior on them. They sell this data to advertising companies who then target you online.
Luckily, there is now a free tool that lets you run a privacy check on any website to see how much tracking it's doing. It's called Blacklight.
The researchers for that article used Blacklight to scan 80,000 sites. Of those, only 10,400 didn't load any type of tracker or third-party cookie (which are used to track you around the web), but…
About 12,000 sites loaded session recorders, which can see and report where you move your mouse cursor, what you click on, and how long you spend on each web page.
Over 3,000 sites used keylogging to watch what people entered in web forms, even before they hit “submit”.
Just under 5,000 sites used a newer (and harder to avoid) tracking method called “canvas fingerprinting”.
Almost 60,000 of the sites tested loaded Google tracking technologies and 26,000 sites loaded Facebook tracking technologies. These were loaded on sites not run by Google or Facebook, yet those companies could still see where people were going on the web and what they were doing.
Good News / Bad News
The good news is that most of this tracking is not done with evil intent.
It's more of an economic incentive: Since many websites offer free content and services, they need to cover their costs.
And, as the saying goes “If you're not paying for the product, you ARE the product”.
More specifically, it's the data about your online behavior that is the product sold to advertising and marketing companies.
Is this really bad? Should I be worried?
Well, maybe or maybe not. Here are two possible scenarios…
Someone visits websites to research running shoes and notices ads for running shoes starting to pop up.
If the ads offer a good deal on a pair of shoes he's interested in, that could be a “win-win” situation and he's not too bothered by the tracking that led to it.
Someone starts doing online research on a medical condition. The trackers collect and sell this data to insurance companies. Although the data might not be associated with a particular person, the insurance companies might be able to figure out that the person is one of their customers.
Next year, the person finds that his health insurance premium has gone up significantly. In this case, that web tracking let to something that might end up costing thousands of dollars, and the person would have no idea why.
So what can you do?
There are a few things you can do to minimize web tracking…
Switch to a web browser that has automatic and/or better tracking protection. Although I prefer Google Chrome, better tracking protection is found in Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and Microsoft Edge (the replacement for Internet Explorer).
If you still want to use Chrome, install tracker blocking plugins like Privacy Badger and Ghostery, and ad blockers like uBlock Origin and Adblock Plus (See our free resources page for details.)
You can also use a more privacy-focused search engine like DuckDuckGo.com (which provides the same search results as Google, but without tracking your search queries and clicks)
If you live in California, a new law (CCPA — California Consumer Privacy Act) can help protect you, but you have to take action.
Does THIS website use trackers?
We believe in total transparency, so the answer is “yes” but only 2 (less than half the average of 7 on popular sites).
They are from Alphabet (Google's parent company) but since we don't run ads on this site, they're effectively inactive.
We also use a code snippet to provide anonymous information about how many people visit various pages of our website.
This website will work perfectly fine if you use a tracker-blocking web browser or a plugin that disables them. And we're totally good with that!
If you have any questions about anything here or if there's an issue you'd like us to write about please get in touch.
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