Online privacy is a major concern in the tech world, and by far the biggest privacy issues arise when you browse the internet. Why? Because online marketers of all stripes are keen to monetize you by following you around the web with tracking via cookiescookies, your IP address, and other device-specific identifiers.
How Are You Being Tracked Right Now?
That means that even if you turn off third-party cookies (Google has stated it plans to remove support for them in its Chrome browser some time in 2023), sites can often still identify you via fingerprinting. In fact, fingerprinting is a more concerning privacy concern than cookies. You can delete cookies at any time, but, unless you get a new device, you can’t escape your digital footprint. Another issue is the long string of characters some sites add when you copy a web address. Those identify you as well, and a browser extension called ClearURLs can help protect this kind of tracking.
How Can You Prevent Web Tracking?
A browser can take measures to protect you against these privacy infringements, but note that private browsing mode—variously called Incognito mode, InPrivate, or simply Private mode—usually doesn’t protect you against tracking. This mode usually just hides your activities from the local machine’s history.
Some browsers, such as Edge and Safari, block known fingerprinters based on blacklists, and Firefox is working on a behavioral blocking system that alerts you if a site tries to perform actions that look like fingerprinting—for example, trying to extract your hardware specs using the HTML Canvas feature. That experimental Firefox tool removes identifying data used by fingerprinters. The Brave browser, Avast Secure Browser, and Apple’s Safari already have features that obscure data such as “device and browser configuration, and fonts and plug-ins you have installed,” according to Apple’s site.
Another privacy protection landing in browsers such as Firefox and Edge lately is support for more-secure DNS protocols. That’s the system of servers that your browser contacts to translate text web addresses into their number equivalents that web servers use. By default, your ISP’s DNS servers provide this translation, but secure browsers now use DoH (DNS over HTTPS) to both encrypt the connection and to prevent your ISP from sending your unfound browsing requests to their search providers. For more on all this, read How (and Why) to Change Your DNS Server.
How Do You Know if You Are Trackable?
The EFF (Electronic Freedom Frontier) organization publishes a Cover Your Tracks webpage to test your browser’s susceptibility to tracking and fingerprinting. It uses a real tracking company—the name of which it does not reveal—for its tests. Be forewarned: It almost always reports that your browser has a unique fingerprint. Other tools you can use to see how unique your digital fingerprint is include AmIUnique and Device Info.
If you still want to use Chrome or another browser without much tracking protection, you have recourse in plugins that may help protect your privacy, such as Decentraleyes, DuckDuckGo, PrivacyBadger, or uBlock Origin.
As with everything in life, there’s no such thing as perfect security or privacy. But using one of these browsers can at least make it harder for entities to track your internet browsing, to different degrees. As always, if you have better solutions or disagreements, feel free to chime in below in our comments section.