Privacy is something that everyone values, and online privacy is just as important. Your online activity is tracked by your internet service provider, search engines, and most websites you visit, which is why it's important to have anti-tracking software to prevent this. It’s not always with malicious intent, and it can often provide a great user experience. But everyone should have a right to choose whether they want to be tracked or not. Advertisers use this to display ads they think you might like, and some companies sell that search data to others.
Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent websites and other software from tracking you online. Here is a complete guide on what you need to know about web tracking and the best anti-tracking software to protect your online anonymity.
What is Web Tracking?
Web tracking refers to the monitoring of user activity on websites they visit. Also known as digital tracking or online monitoring, web tracking helps website owners understand who visits their website.
Getting insights into a user's online behavior is crucial for many reasons. First, the data is useful for providing a tailored experience to visitors.
Have you wondered how Netflix and YouTube know just the perfect movie or video to suggest? Their seeming omnipotence relies heavily on web tracking technologies to monitor the type of content you consume. They then provide recommendations based on your viewing habits.
Website owners can also sell your data to digital advertisers who use it to create ad targeting campaigns. These advertisers then analyze the data to target you with relevant products and ads you might purchase or like.
Businesses also monitor how users interact with their websites to optimize website performance. If analytics software shows a type of content that gets more clicks, the site can use that intel to guide content production and distribution.
Website tracking originally started with HTTP cookies, small pieces of data which stored information about a user's session. However, the list of tracking software has ballooned in recent years, as websites and online advertisers find new ways to collect user data.
Here's an introduction to the standard technologies that power the website tracking industry:
Cookies: Cookies are the most common form of online tracking available today. A cookie is a piece of code installed on a user's computer after accessing a website. This software can record everything concerning a user's interaction with a website and the content on it.
Most cookies log information about the length of your session, the pages you visited, and the sections you browsed. For example, cookies on an eCommerce site may track the products you added to your cart.
Session cookies only collect data during a browsing session and will stop running if you close the browser. Session cookies can be quite helpful since some uses include allowing users to access sites without having to log in repeatedly.
Supercookies are more powerful than regular session cookies. Designed to self-install on a computer, these cookies can pretty much track you across multiple browsing sessions. Anti tracking software is effective at preventing these types of trackers from following you.
These cookies are more problematic since they collect data for other businesses. Businesses like search engines and social media platforms use the insights to display ads across your social media feed and browsing sessions. Google and Facebook are famous for these.
Web Beacons: Web beacons are digital tags embedded into an image or webpage. Designed to monitor how you engage with a piece of content, web beacons are usually 1x1 pixelated images that automatically download if you open the content.
Email marketers often use web beacons to track the effectiveness of email outreach campaigns. A web beacon attached to an email can track if the recipient has opened the email and how many times they opened it.
Mouse Tracking: Mouse tracking software monitors a website visitor's cursor movement. With a mouse tracker, website owners can detect where you click and tap on a site to create a heatmap.
Mouse trackers can track your mouse's position and the length of time it stays in that area. Plus, the software allows websites to track how far down you scroll on a page.
Mouse tracking helps evaluate the actions of visitors on the site. Using this information, companies can design better interfaces that appeal to visitors and encourage them to stay longer on the site.
However, like other tracking technologies, mouse tracking is problematic. Website owners risk committing a privacy violation if they don't ask for your permission before using mouse tracking software.
Fingerprinting: Fingerprinting combines details about a user's online activity to create a profile for them. This profile can then inform the content and ads served up for the user. Here are some details used to create a browsing fingerprint for you:
- Location or IP address
- Device model
- Operating system (OS)
- Browser version
- Time zone
- Screen resolution
When considered separately, each piece of information rarely provides any information about a user. However, browser fingerprinting software can combine all data points to generate a fairly accurate identifier for website visitors.
Session Replay Scripts: A session replay script is software designed to record your interaction with a website. It can record your keystrokes, mouse clicks, and scrolling behavior on the site.
Companies use session replay scripts to detect website problems and understand how you use the website. Also, these tools help businesses pinpoint reasons for users leaving the site.
However useful they are, session replay scripts can cause privacy issues. Companies can see your private information since the replay contains the content of the pages you visit. This is possible if the site has a web form or another tool for accepting user information.
Session replay scripts are similar to mouse tracking software. The most significant difference here is that session replay scripts combine all three forms of tracking (cursor movement, scrolling, and clicking) into a motion video to show a user's journey on the website.
Internet Protocol (IP) Address: Every device needs an IP address to connect to the Internet. With an IP address, websites can detect your location and use it to monitor you.
Express VPN is a Virtual Private Network provider operating in the British Virgin Islands since 2009. For years, it has remained the tool of choice for users wanting maximum privacy and anonymity online.
With Express VPN, you can browse online with your personal information fully protected. No site, not even Express VPN themselves, can access your IP address, browsing history, and location.
In addition, the company has a browser extension that enhances your online privacy. While the extension is primarily for controlling the app, it restricts sites from collecting information to be used in creating your browser fingerprint.
If you connect to public WiFi networks (which you should avoid for the most part), you need a VPN that can keep your data safe and secure from prying eyes. It also has parental control options for parents.
Avast AntiTrack Premium is a paid privacy protection tool and one of the best anti-tracking software on the market. The software can detect trackers on sites you visit and start disabling them immediately.
Avast AntiTrack isn't the only paid anti-tracking software available but, this privacy-protection software is one of the best for tracking protection. You can keep everything about your setup private, including what operating system you're using and previous browser history.
Avast AntiTrack can protect you from maladvertising, data mining, and third-party tracking. Moreover, it stops websites from using your personal information to create a browser fingerprint for you.
AdGuard is a premier anti-tracking software packed with rich features. AdGuard can block third-party cookies, phishing sites, intrusive ads, and tracking files. Additionally, it protects your PC from malicious software that could harm operations.
AdGuard software shows how many trackers are blocked on each site. Users can manage preferences to allow or block content from specific sites. Thus, you're always in control of your online privacy.
AdGuard is a must-have if you want to have a safer browsing experience. The anti-tracking software masks your IP address, so you don't have to worry about websites tracking you across the Internet. AdGuard also gives users the option to allow websites to use their CPU for cryptocurrency mining or restrict it. Some websites will try to secretly do this, while others are more transparent about it.
If you want to browse the web without getting tracked, the Tor browser is one of the best options out there. This cutting-edge browser that was actually created by the United States Naval Research Laboratory allows you to use the web anonymously and stops all forms of digital surveillance.
Tor is unique for its anti-fingerprinting technology. Within the Tor browsers, all users have their personal data protected for anonymous browsing. This means website owners and online advertisers cannot identify you based on your device or browser information.
Tor is free to use but accepts donations from interested individuals. It remains an open-source platform and goes through many updates to improve functionality. There is also a Tor browser for mobile devices, but it’s officially only supported in Android devices.
Privacy Badger is an anti-tracking browser extension that automatically disables trackers, banner ads, and cookies on any of the sites you visit. Privacy Badger is a plug-and-play software that starts running immediately after installing it. There's no need to configure the ad blocker or manage your preferences.
Privacy Badger isn't expressly designed to block advertisements, like banner ads. Instead, the free anti-tracking software is primarily aimed at blocking visible and invisible trackers on websites. Since most third-party advertisements contain trackers, they are blocked by default.
Privacy Badger is good for anyone who wants easy-to-use anti-tracking software. Once installed as a extension, Privacy Badger automatically scans the sites for all tracking methods like supercookies, browser fingerprinting, third-party cookies, etc.
The software is free to use for everyone, and the developers have made Privacy Badger open-source, so it undergoes constant improvement from the community.
Malwarebytes is famous for providing anti-malware services for computer systems. However, it has another tool, Malwarebytes Browser Guard, which focuses on keeping browsing tracking-free.
Available as an extension, Malwarebytes Browser Guard blocks cookies, ads, phishing, and scams on websites. It crushes third-party trackers that target you with ads on websites you use. Plus, it can safeguard against browser hijacking, malware, ransomware, and other malicious content.
Malwarebytes Browser Guard works on Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Safari, and Mozilla Firefox browsers. The browser is free and easy to use for new users. Malwarebytes is one of the most famous cybersecurity companies, and the browser guard lives up to its famous brand name.
Ghostery is a feature-rich Anti-Tracking tool available as a web browser or browser extension. Built to guarantee users maximum privacy, Ghostery can block most standard tracking methods used by websites. This includes website beacons, analytics scripts, and widgets.
With Ghostery, you can find out who is tracking your activity on a website and the type of trackers used. The tool allows you to disable or enable these trackers according to your preferences. Say you want to support a particular publisher, you can enable third-party ads on the website.
Ghostery is a seamless tool and requires minimal RAM to operate. Plus, it's easy to use, even for the most non-technical person on the internet. For instance, Ghostery has a one-tap Restric' feature you can activate to block all trackers, including third party trackers found on the site immediately. It’s perfect if you accidentally click on a spammy website.
Users can choose from three pricing plans with Ghostery. The Basic Plan is free but only works for one browser. Plus Plans cost $2.00 per month and work for an unlimited number of browsers. The Premium Plan costs $14 per month or $120 per year and works for different browsers and applications.
UBlock is a privacy software designed to block unnecessary ads, website scripts, phishing attempts and solve other privacy problems. The software can disable session cookies that record your activity on a website.
With UBlock, you can see what trackers a website uses and block them as you see fit. You can customize your preferences, although this may increase the learning curve.
UBlock Origin is available as a free, open-source browser extension. However, you can donate money to the project via a one-time payment or monthly donations. It’s a great way to keep people motivated and working on it.
Compared to other anti-tracking software, UBlock uses less RAM, which frees up your CPU for faster performance. Moreover, it offers more flexibility and efficiency than most free ad blockers.
AdBlock Plus focuses on blocking advertisements on sites. That includes pop-up advertisements, banner ads, and other intrusive elements on websites. Overall, AdBlock guarantees a better experience when visiting sites since it can prevent any spammy ads from showing up and clogging the screen. It also works on mobile devices for Android and iPhones/iPads. Some malicious ads can infect your phone with spyware, so it's a good idea to use it on smartphones.
This ad blocker is also useful for disabling some tracking scripts. You can also get warnings before visiting a site, especially if it has malware. However, some websites might actually block you from visiting or display a dialog if they detect you're using an adblock extension.
This free anti-tracking software has decent customization options. You can select what content to block from sites and what to allow. Plus, AdBlock Plus has the option of whitelisting sites manually if you want them to show ads.