Cookies have come a long way since the Internet became a mainstream service in our homes. Their original function was simple: to keep track of a user’s activities on a website so that the next time they come back, the website “remembers” what the user has clicked. To put it simply, it keeps the links you clicked on purple the next time you visit a webpage. However, as internet activities evolved, cookies evolved with them, adding new features like keeping track if form data, including passwords, usernames, and credit card numbers. Wait. Usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers stored in a file on your computer that you had no knowledge of? Now you see where the problems start to come up, especially with the pervasive presence of malware and viruses that scour your computer for those cookies and relaying them back to criminals waiting to steal your identity. Fortunately you can download a ton of great (and free!) software to help you combat these malicious scripts, viruses, and spywares before they cause a problem for you and your computer. Here are two of my favorites:
AVG – The trial and free versions of this fantastic Anti-Virus program does wonders in keeping your computer safe from attacks. Special features scan links and let you know if they’re safe or suspicious before you click on them, and frequent automated scans makes sure your computer stays clean.
Malwarebytes – If there’s a free program that can clear your computer of spyware, Malwarebytes is the way to go! Once again, this software is absolutely free to download and install, and it updates as frequently as you run it…which should be often!
But we’re here to talk about cookies and trackers, and those are files sent to your computer, usually in the Temporary Internet Files folder, that silently and stealthily gather information on your internet activities. Advertising cookies and trackers will use your internet behavior to customize advertising displays on your browsers. Ever wonder how they happen to know what you’re looking for or what you’re interested in? Isn’t it strange that Google knows what you want to search before you’ve even finished typing in your query? You have cookies and trackers to thank for that. While it might seem okay or even sweet that your version of the Internet seems to be tailored specifically for you, I see it differently. No one asked permission to observe your activities. You didn’t authorize anyone to plant unknown files into your computer to aid them in spying on you. It would be like someone breaking into your home, taking stock of what you own, and going through your receipts!
So who’s tracking you right now? In response to rising internet privacy issues, the browser Add-On “Collusion” was born. This handy tool allows you to see websites you’ve been to along with all the third-party trackers associated with those sites in a dynamic network map. Add it to your browser, surf for 15 minutes, and see what you come up with. Chances are your network map will be much messier than mine; any third-party tracker in the image above was allowed in by my choice. If what you see scares you, know that there are a many programmers out there dedicated to keeping the Internet private and safe. Here are a few that I’ve discovered that I highly recommend:
Ghostery – This wonderful Add-On stops third-party trackers in their tracks and shows you exactly who they are and their intended purpose. The use of this App is anonymous, and you can even choose to opt-in their collaborative efforts by anonymously sending them data on third-party trackers that may have slipped through the cracks.
Do Not Track Me – This Add-On functions similarly to Ghostery. It’s been around longer, and it has a comprehensive list of blocked third-party trackers. Two lists are always better than one!
Ad Block Plus – If you’re sick of pop-up ads, banners, and short clips before you watch your Youtube videos, then this Add-On is a must! The downside of it would be that artists and sites you support will not generate any revenue from your visits.
These are very small and simple steps you can take to protect your privacy. The setup is minimal, and it should take you less than 20 minutes to download and install everything if you have a decent internet connection. Believe me, once everything is in place, you will notice the difference in quality when it comes to browsing the Internet.