Dealing with tracking software

The internet has become an extraordinarily useful tool for finding information of all sorts.  However, the internet browser you use is bidirectional.  That is, you learn about what you are interested in and others can learn about you while you are online.

Internet users are often surprised (even pleasantly so at times) when a site “remembers” the last time a user visited the site and even some of his or her preferences.  This is accomplished by websites, or ads running on websites, installing cookies, beacons, and other tracking files on an Internet user’s computer, tablet or smart phone.

Cookies generally perform harmless tasks such as allowing websites to remember user names and passwords for future logins.  Some cookies, though, track the websites a user visits, and beacons can actually track what an Internet user is doing on a website.  This can consist of tracking and recording buttons that are clicked, words that are typed, voice searches that are made, etc.

Some tracking files may even record and locate sensitive information such as income, location, medical conditions of Internet user, etc.

At one time The Wall Street Journal reported that approximately two-thirds of the tracking files employed by the top 50 most visited websites were dispatched by tracking companies that compile Internet users’ personal information into consumer profiles.   These profiles are then sold to Internet companies to assist them in developing more personalized web services and advertisements in the best case, and to exploit consumers in the worst.

The Internet may have opened the world to everyone, but it has also literally exposed everyone to the world in ways they never anticipated.

To provide some level of defense against this means of acquiring your information, it would be wise for you to regularly clear your cookies and your browser cache.  This process will provide some measure of protection for now, but new methods of tracking online usage and activity may be more difficult to defeat.  For example, some companies may begin looking for distinctive computer settings such as installed fonts and time zone details in order to zero in on a user’s identity.  It has also been reported that Google and Microsoft are working on new forms of cookie-less identification.  So, in the future, it may be wiser to deal with the control and protection of your personal information in an entirely different way.

Online Stalking – Defending Yourself

There is an alarming number of people who are reporting being pursued by stalkers via cell phones, internet services, GPS systems, wireless video cameras, and other technologies. There are many sites out there today that have been reported about in the news that are called “Stalker Sites”. You need to be aware of these sites and ensure your information is not listed on these sites.

Generally speaking there are two types of online stalkers: one time offenders who hold a grudge or otherwise have developed an obsession, and serial stalkers who are always on the lookout for new victims. Although there are many variations on the theme, typically cyber stalkers will become more demanding over time and may eventually try to force you into doing what they want by threatening to or actually publishing defamatory, malicious information or private, personal data that could hurt you, your relationships, and/or your career.

The best way to defend yourself against cyber stalking is to make it hard for stalkers to find you and your private information in the first place.

  • When on the internet, never use your actual name – use a name or sign that is as unrelated to you as you can invent.

  • Never give out personal details like phone numbers or physical addresses.

  • Do not send any confidential information via a personal computer.  If absolutely necessary, use a library computer which a stalker is less likely to be able to track.

  • Remove any personal information from social media sites.

Perhaps most importantly, it is critically important to effectively manage the information broker community.  People finder data bases that contain vast amounts of sensitive personal information and readily sell that information on the internet make it very easy for stalkers to not only find and harass you, but equally easy to extend their activities to family members, relatives and associates.  Hence it is a fundamental imperative that you manage your personal information and direct its removal from those data bases that might publish or sell your information.

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