Tracking digital footprint

Explainers

You’re Tracked. But Don’t Give Up.

February 26th, 2020

They’re tracking you. Right now. Everywhere you go, your movements and your online purchases and meanderings are likely being recorded and stored in the cloud. Big Tech is watching. Think you’ve slipped their gaze by turned off location-based services for Facebook or other main apps or websites? It’s not as simple as that. They’re tracking you. Here’s the lowdown on tracking and some tips to reduce your exposure.

Retailers Are Building a Digital Profile and Tracking You.

Each time you make a purchase with a credit card at a retail location, you are sharing more information than you realize: your visit to that geolocation, the amount you spent, what you spent. When you make a purchase of a baby book at Target, are you surprised when you receive coupons via email or in the mail with baby-related items? Sellers excel at capturing as many details as possible in an attempt to provide you with items that will tempt you to purchase. You may not see that as a problem. Fine. But know that it’s not a coincidence. The ads you see online are directly related to your browsing and purchasing habits.

Here’s something else to consider. You have have turned off the location settings on your apps. That’s a worthy first step, but if your phone’s Bluetooth signal is activated, it can share your location with Bluetooth beacons in the stores you visit. Once those beacons pick up your phone’s signal, they record it. Again, they’re tracking you, and now the store you’re in has a record of your visit and knows how long you spent in the cereal aisle.

Protecting Your Family’s Privacy Online 

Limiting tracking and data collection are two of the best options for keeping your family safe, but physically making the changes on each website and app that you visit or brand that you interact with is an ongoing challenge. One quick step is to always browse the web in incognito or private mode, which limits (to some extent) the ability of others to track your online movements. Anytime you are connected to WiFi, consider employing a VPN or Virtual Private Network that masks your computer or mobile device’s IP address.

Your actions on the web leave a mark—your digital footprint. That record of your activity is valuable to a long list of entities—think retailers, market research firms, advertisers, credit-rating firms. They’re tracking you. Simply being aware of that fact is an important first step toward bolstering your internet security and preserving your family’s digital privacy. Here are a few more: Use a VPN; turn off your apps’ location-sharing services (you can do that in your device’s “Settings”); and if you’re not using it, turn off Bluetooth when you’re shopping. You’ll leave fewer footprints and reduce your exposure.

. . .