How to: Reduce your digital fingerprint and improve privacy online

Thousands of tech companies around to world are actively collecting data to profile you, as a user. They can do this to improve the so called ‘experience’ of the application you’re using, but this data can also be sold to other companies for targeted ads. This article is written for you, the user to improve your online privacy and reduce the digital fingerprint of your online activities.

How do companies track your activity?

It’s useful to know how companies are tracking you, but not necessary. If you’re here to just reduce your fingerprint please scroll down below to make some quick and easy steps! Always remember: “if you’re not paying for a service you’re very often the product!”

Account tracking

This one is pretty straight-forward: if you register an account at a website they can track your behaviour. Every action you perform at this website can be logged through scripts. This means it can track what you watch, like, share, click and connect this to your profile.

Tracking & Advertising Cookies

Whenever you visit a website you make a connection to a webserver where the website is hosted. Once the website is loaded the website can use cookies to improve the user experience, such as automatically being signed in to a website on your next visit, for example Facebook.com. This cookie is nothing more than a text file stored in your webbrowser containing information such as a (random) ID. Websites can save these ID’s on their end to identify and connecting you to this ID. If you visit another website other than Facebook that’s using the Facebook like, share, etc. features a connection is still made to Facebook with your ID. During this connection the company knows you’re visiting website ‘X’.

Apps & Software

Applications or software on your computer can gather information about your behaviour and interests. In this paragraph I will focus myself on apps, but the same goes for software. Applications on your system are able to collect information about your usage and device information. This information is collected when you’re using the said application, but can also be gathered in the background.

How do I improve my privacy?

There are several ways to be more in-control over your personal data and thus improving your privacy online.

Social Media and other accounts

Ditching (or reducing!) your social media usage will greatly improve your privacy. Don’t share your visits or your diner online as this publishes a lot of information about you and your interests. A good example is Facebook using image scanning software which shows every single components of images hosted on their platform!

The same goes for other platforms. Sometimes it’s not necessary to create an account. If you prefer to delete your account you can use JustDeleteMe to receive intructions on how to do so.

Tracking & Ad-blocking

Ads and tracking cookies can comprimise your valuable privacy and data. You can use ad-blockers and anti-tracking addons to improve your privacy. You can use Ublock Origin which is opensource and available on Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Microsoft Edge. To reduce connections to trackers, I Use Electronic Frontiers Foundations’s Privacy Badger. This add-on is available for Google Chrome, Firefox and Opera.

If you prefer to block ads and trackers on your network level, use Pi-Hole. Pi-Hole is a DNS server (translator of Domain names to IP-addresses) who blocks connections that might compromise your privacy. This means that you won’t need the add-ons mentioned above. Important to remember is that this only blocks connections on your network. Once you leave your house you’re unprotected!

Applications and Software

Several apps and software on your devices such as computers, phones or TV’s can gather information. Deleting these applications from your device will definitely improve your privacy.

  • Windows 10 and Office: Microsoft’s applications often phone home to send information about your usage to their servers. You can stop this by blocking the connections to the telemetry servers. To do so either run this Powershell script that alters your host file or use Spybots’ Anti-Beacon.
  • Uninstall Social Media application such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. This will also improve your battery life.

Conclusion

In this article I wrote about how companies are tracking you and how you can prevent/reduce this to improve your privacy. This article will receive updates in the future to better inform you about this topic.