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What Are Trackers? How To Stop Being Tracked Online

Trackers collect, store, and share information about you while you browse or shop online — which can become a major privacy concern if you’re not careful.

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      Are Websites and Apps Tracking You?

      Websites and apps use tools called “trackers” to collect personal data about your browsing history, preferences, and personal information. This data is mainly used to show you targeted ads (and is why if you visit a website about lawnmowers, you’ll suddenly start to see ads for new mowers on other web pages and sites that you visit). 

      In the wrong hands, data from trackers can be used to scam or manipulate you online. According to the latest research [*]:

      62% of Americans believe it’s impossible to go through their daily life without companies collecting their personal data.

      While it may feel impossible to protect your personal information online, there are ways to block trackers and keep your browsing data private. 

      In this guide, we’ll explain how online trackers work, the risks associated with them, and what you can do today to help improve your online privacy — and protect your family, finances, and identity from online threats. 

      {{show-toc}} 

      What Are Trackers? What Personal Data Do They Collect?

      An online tracker is a website script that records visitor activity on the site. These small bits of software — like a cookie or tracking pixel — are embedded directly into a website’s code and collect data points about your browsing activity and interests — including the pages you visit, where you scroll, and the links and images that you click on.

      Each time you go online, you leave a digital footprint. The tracking technologies in browsers collect enough information to create a unique identifier for you, allowing them to track you even if they don't know who you are. 

      Advertising and marketing companies use online trackers to understand consumers and to place targeted ads. Various government agencies and monitoring authorities also use trackers to keep tabs on internet activity and to police potential criminal activity. 

      Here are six common types of data that online trackers collect:

      • Browsing activity habits. Online web trackers gather information on every site you visit, the pages you look at, and where you go before and after.  
      • Online shopping history. This data is used to build a clear picture of your interests and past purchases. With these details, e-commerce companies can provide personalized content and shopping recommendations based on your interests.
      • IP address. Every internet-connected device or network has a unique numerical identifier called an Internet Protocol (IP) address. Web trackers use this address to know where you are so that they can refine their targeting.
      • Location. By understanding your geographical location, advertisers, search engines, and online services can tailor their results to show you what’s available in your local area. 
      • Personal data. Any information you give a website (like your name, age, gender, and address) can be stored and used to create an online profile.
      • Browser and technology. Browsers collect several types of data to improve your user experience, including what you click on and how long you spend on a page.

      The bottom line: Online privacy is getting more and more scarce. Unless you don't use the internet at all, it's incredibly difficult to stop trackers and maintain your privacy. With Aura, you get a full suite of online privacy and digital security tools, including anti-track and ad blockers, to help keep you and your family safe (and private) online. Try Aura risk free today

      Is Online Tracking Dangerous? 5 Risks To Know About

      The internet poses a severe threat to your privacy — and third-party trackers play a large role. 

      Although there are legal ways to track people online, cybercriminals can exploit these tools to intercept sensitive personally identifiable information (PII), hack into your accounts, or inject malware into your devices. 

      Here are some of the more common dangers caused by online trackers:

      • You get bombarded with personalized ads. Trackers are used regularly to increase conversions on ads. While this can be helpful in some cases, it can also be a massive invasion of privacy, and it can expose your browsing history to other people who use your device. 
      • Your data could get leaked to fraudsters and scammers. When third-party apps and websites store data, they offer fraudsters valuable information that can be used for scams and identity theft. If there is a data breach, your PII could be sold to criminals on the Dark Web.
      • Your browsing data can be “deanonymized.” Browsing data is used to create detailed profiles, which are then used to identify individuals and their preferences. The more time you spend online, the more accurate your profile becomes, which infringes upon your privacy. 
      • Government agencies could share your data between countries. International data sharing poses several potential risks to your privacy, including national security concerns and human rights violations.
      • Your online reputation could be damaged. Potential employers, clients, and customers often check online reviews and social media profiles before making an informed decision about someone. If your image is compromised in any way by tracking (or related data leaks), the repercussions may impact your life or business. 
      ⛑️ Protect your online accounts, identity, and privacy — with a single app. Aura combines identity and fraud protection with advanced digital security, 24/7 support, and up to $1 million in insurance coverage. Plans start at $3/month.

      How To Stop Being Tracked Online

      1. Use ad blockers and anti-track tools
      2. Try a data privacy-focused browser
      3. Turn on Google’s “Do Not Track” feature
      4. Hide your browsing history with a VPN
      5. Regularly clear your cache and cookies
      6. Adjust your device-level privacy settings
      7. Browse in incognito mode
      8. Limit what you share online and on social media
      9. Consider the privacy tradeoff of new apps and services
      10. Remove your personal information from data broker lists

      Although it’s almost impossible to remain totally anonymous online, there are ways to mitigate risks and ensure that internet tracking software is not infringing on your privacy.

      Here are ten best practices to stop (or at least reduce) your exposure to online tracking:

      1. Use ad blockers and anti-track tools

      Ad-blocking browser extensions and apps can improve your online experience by blocking intrusive ads and irrelevant content that doesn’t interest you. Some ad blockers and anti-track tools or plug-ins even prevent web-tracking scripts that follow your activities online.

      For example, Aura can alert you to intrusive site trackers and automatically block any attempts to collect your personal information online. 

      Here are some anti-track tools to consider:

      • Aura. An all-in-one online privacy and digital security app that combines online privacy and safety tools with award-winning identity and credit protection, 24/7 U.S.-based support, and up to $5 million in identity theft insurance. Aura’s included Safe Browsing tools block trackers and ads and can even warn you of phishing websites. 
      • Adblock Plus. A tracker blocker browser extension that comes with a user-friendly interface and increased functionality, offering both a free and paid version. 
      • uBlock Origin. This free, open-source, cross-platform browser extension is ideal for content filtering and improving privacy online. 

      2. Try a data privacy-focused browser

      Private browsers often include strong ad blockers — built-in or through an extension — that remove advertisements and other promotional content from the sites you visit. These ads often clutter large parts of websites, making the web page much slower to load (and harder to read).

      Some websites gather and store data about you even if you have turned off your tracking cookies. Private browsers can counter this through browser fingerprinting protection. This feature prevents information about your online activity from being quietly collected in the background. 

      Here’s how to use privacy-focused browsers:

      • Choose a reputable privacy-focused browser. Some of the best privacy-focused browsers include Brave, Mozilla Firefox, DuckDuckGo (a private search engine), Safari, and Tor.
      • Adjust privacy settings. Once installed, open the browser and access its settings or preferences menu. This is where you can customize the various privacy features.
      • Use additional privacy tools. Some privacy-focused browsers include digital security tools like virtual private networks (VPNs), ad-blockers, anti-tracking extensions, and social media blocking.

      💡 Related: How To Remove Your Personal Information From the Internet

      3. Turn on Google’s “Do Not Track” feature

      When you browse the web on a computer (or via iOS and Android devices), you can send a request to websites asking them not to collect or track your browsing data.

      Settings page in Google Chrome with arrows pointing to a toggle to block third-party cookies
      Example of how to block third-party cookies and send a “Do Not Track” request to websites in Google Chrome.

      Although this setting is turned off by default, what happens to your data depends on how a website responds to the request. In many cases, websites still collect and use your browsing data to provide relevant content, services, ads, and recommendations on their websites.

      Here’s how to activate Google’s “Do Not Track” feature on your computer.

      • On your computer, open Chrome.
      • At the top right, select More > Settings > Privacy and Security > Third-party cookies.
      • Toggle on Send a "Do Not Track" request with your browsing traffic.

      Here’s how to turn on Google’s “Do Not Track” feature on your Android device.

      • On your Android device, open Chrome.
      • To the right of the address bar, tap on More > Settings > Privacy and Security.
      • Tap on Send a "Do Not Track" request, and turn the setting on or off.

      💡 Related: How To Properly Set Up Your iPhone's Privacy Settings

      4. Hide your browsing history with a VPN

      A VPN encrypts your traffic and hides your IP address. With this security tool enabled, your location, browsing history, downloads, gaming, and streaming activities remain hidden from hackers, Internet service providers (ISPs), websites, and government agencies.

      However, it's important to note that a VPN does not completely erase your internet history and activity. Your default web browser can still retain your online searches, and your ISP can see when you’re connected to a VPN (and for how long). 

      Here are some VPN providers to consider:

      • Aura. With one tap, Aura's VPN keeps hackers at bay — and your online activities private — so that you can confidently shop, bank, browse, and work online.
      • NordVPN. This service offers advanced features such as next-generation encryption, a strict no-logs policy, an automatic kill switch, and domain name system (DNS) leak protection.
      • ProtonVPN. This offers several features that hide your browsing history and protect your online privacy without collecting or storing your information.

      💡 Related: Free VPN vs. Paid VPN: Which Option Is Right For You?

      5. Regularly clear your cache and cookies

      When you visit a website, your browser stores some information from the site — such as images, fonts, and login credentials. 

      By clearing this information regularly, you remove this stored data to prevent performance issues and ensure that you see the most up-to-date content on websites. More importantly, clearing your cache and cookies helps you stop being tracked online.

      Here’s how to clear your cache and cookies in the most popular web browsers:

      Chrome:

      • From the menu bar of a Google Chrome window, click on More (⋮).
      • Select More Tools > Clear Browsing Data
      • In the pop-up window, you can choose Cookies and Site Data and Cached Web Content. Make your choices, and then confirm by selecting Clear.

      Safari:

      • From your Mac's menu bar, click on History > Clear History.
      • In the pop-up window that appears, select the dropdown beside Clear.
      • Select All History > Clear History.

      Firefox:

      • From the menu bar of a Firefox window, click on Open Application Menu (≡) > Settings > Privacy & Security. 
      • In the Cookies and Site Data section, click on Clear Data
      • In the pop-up window, you can choose Cookies and Site Data and Cached Web Content. Check the boxes you want to delete, and then confirm by selecting Clear.
      ⚠️ Is your information on the Dark Web? Aura scans billions of data points across the internet, Dark Web, public records, and more to alert you if your identity, accounts, and finances are at risk. Try Aura’s privacy protection plans for as low as $3/month.

      6. Adjust your device-level privacy settings

      Even if you have tight privacy settings for your home Wi-Fi network or browser, individual devices could still be vulnerable. You can stop being tracked online by adjusting the settings on your internet-connected devices. This approach is a good idea when you want to protect children who may find ways around your stricter network-level settings.

      Here’s how to adjust device-level privacy settings:

      • Control third-party app permissions. Review every app's settings on smartphones and tablets to ensure that they have limited access to your data. Disable unnecessary permissions including location, microphone, and contact access.
      • Gaming consoles. On devices like PlayStation and Xbox, navigate to the privacy settings. Here, you can restrict who sees your online activity, game history, and friends list. For younger children, consider disabling the chat features. It’s also wise to remove any linked credit card numbers to stop your children — and hackers — from racking up unauthorized purchases.
      • Home Assistants and internet of things (IoT) Devices. For devices like Amazon Echo or Google Home, use the mobile apps to review and delete history and voice recordings. Also, limit the use of personal data for customizing experiences.

      💡 Related: How To Properly Set Up Your Social Media Privacy Settings

      7. Browse in incognito mode

      Private browsing is a feature available in most web browsers, allowing you to browse the web freely without saving your internet history, cookies, site data, or any other information that you enter on a form or application. 

      Google Chrome tab in Incognito mode
      Example of Google Chrome’s Incognito mode.

      Incognito mode can be useful when you share your devices with others. It allows you to maintain privacy on public or shared computers, or access sensitive information without leaving a trace on your Apple, Android, and other devices.

      Here’s how to use incognito mode in most modern browsers:

      Google Chrome:

      • Open Google Chrome.
      • Click on the three-dot icon in the upper-right corner, and then the New Incognito Window or the New Incognito Tab from the drop-down menu. 
      • A new window will open, usually with a darker color scheme than that of a regular Chrome page.

      Safari (Mac and PC):

      • Open Safari.
      • Click on File at the top-left corner of your screen > New Private Window
      • A new window will open, showing Private in the top left-hand corner.

      Safari (iPhone and iPad):

      • Open Safari.
      • Tap on the Tabs icon — the two overlapping squares in the bottom-right corner on an iPhone (or top-right on an iPad).
      • Tap on X Tabs (where X is the number of open tabs), and then select Private to enter incognito mode. A new window will appear, and incognito mode will now be activated.

      Firefox (Mac and PC):

      • Open Firefox.
      • Click on the three lines in the upper-right corner > New Private Window
      • A purple-themed window will open, showing a mask at the top right.

      💡 Related: How To Delete Your Digital Footprint

      8. Limit what you share online and on social media

      79% of internet users are concerned about their privacy on social media [*]. It’s little surprise when you consider the rise in scams on social media platforms, including romance scams and sextortion schemes. 

      Limiting what you share online is good practice — especially on social media. By restricting the amount of personal information you post, you reduce the risk of someone exploiting your information for scams or identity theft. 

      Here are some ways to improve your privacy on social media:

      • Review your current privacy settings. You can restrict the visibility of your profile on social media accounts to stop unwanted users from discovering you. The settings for each platform differ (here’s how to adjust your social media privacy settings on all major platforms).
      • Limit visible account information. Review and adjust the information associated with your account, such as your home address, phone number, username, and email address. Remove anything that doesn’t need to be online.
      • Be careful about posting personal information. Think before you post information (including images), as this makes you more vulnerable to cybersecurity threats and fraud.

      💡Related: How To Protect Your Personal Information on Social Media

      9. Consider the privacy tradeoff of new apps and services

      Every new third-party app that you add provides another potential gateway into your device and linked accounts. If the software isn’t secure, hackers could exploit the vulnerabilities to intercept sensitive data and take over your accounts.

      When downloading a new app, it's crucial to ensure that it won't compromise the security of your device or your personal information. While most people know to avoid third-party app stores because of the risk of malicious software, you should take further precautions even when you use the Google Play Store or the App Store.

      Here are some important things to consider before you add new apps:

      • Research the app and developer's reputation. Look for reviews and ratings in the App Store or Google Play Store. By reading user feedback, you can find out more about the app's performance and any security concerns raised by other users.
      • Check the permission requests. During installation, be cautious if an app asks for access to sensitive data or functions that seem unnecessary — like your camera — or access to your contacts, as this will increase the risks of your digital footprint.
      • Examine the app’s privacy policy. You should understand how the app collects, uses, and shares your data. If the app lacks a privacy policy or its explanation about data sharing and storage is vague, consider these red flags.

      💡 Related: How To Spot Fake Apps (Before You Download Them)

      10. Remove your personal information from data broker lists

      Data brokers collect and sell your personal information, often without your knowledge or consent. This information can include names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, financial information, and internet browsing history.

      While many data brokers legally package and resell consumer data to hedge funds, ad networks, and marketers, your data may end up in the hands of more nefarious individuals online. It’s important to remove your information from data brokers to safeguard against identity theft.

      Here’s how to remove your personal information from data broker sites.

      • Find your listing on a data broker site. You can use websites like TLO, PeopleLooker, or BeenVerified to search for your personal information on data broker sites. 
      • Lodge manual opt-out requests. You can ask the broker sites to delete your data. Some data brokers require that you verify your email address before allowing you to manage your data; so check your inbox for a verification link before completing the request. 
      • Use content removal services. Manual opt-out requests take a lot of time. Plus, you must continually check the broker sites to see if they have re-added your information. An automated content removal service helps remove more of your information from broker sites and Google searches in less time.
      ⚡️ Get warned fast if scammers have your personal information. Aura’s award-winning solution constantly monitors the Dark Web, public records, and more for your most sensitive information and warns you if its been compromised. Try Aura's privacy-first plans today.

      The Bottom Line: You Deserve Online Privacy 

      Website owners, apps, and online tools collect more personal information than ever before, putting your privacy and safety at risk. Every time you go online, your digital footprint leaves a trace for online trackers, advertisers, and hackers to follow.

      Using a VPN and adopting good practices around what you share on social media reduces the risk of a hack. But you need a comprehensive digital security provider to shield you and your family from cybersecurity attacks and identity theft.

      Here’s how Aura safeguards your online privacy:

      • Award-winning identity theft and credit protection. Every Aura plan includes 24/7 three-bureau credit monitoring with rapid fraud alerts that are up to 250x faster than other digital security providers3.
      • Military-grade VPN encryption. Protect your devices against phishing attacks and threats on unsecured Wi-Fi networks with Aura’s powerful VPN.
      • Anti-track and ad blockers. Automatically block site trackers to keep your data private, and stop annoying pop-up ads from interrupting your browsing experience.
      • AI-powered spam blocking. Keep your calls and messages safe with smart spam-blocking and call-screening features.
      • Up to $5,000,000 insurance policy. Get coverage for eligible losses — such as stolen money, bank fraud, home title theft, and legal fees.
      • U.S.-based White Glove Fraud Resolution Specialists. Access 24/7 support to recover from the impact of fraud, including round-the-clock help to navigate challenges with banks, creditors, and government agencies.
      Protect your privacy with award-winning digital security. Try Aura today.

      Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you to increase awareness about digital safety. Aura’s services may not provide the exact features we write about, nor may cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat discussed in our articles. Please review our Terms during enrollment or setup for more information. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime.

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