Everyone’s talking about internet privacy these days, and for good reason: the online advertising business is booming, and its tracking networks follow nearly everything we do online. A 2010 Wall Street Journal study found that the 50 largest U.S. websites, which account for roughly 40% of the nation’s total internet use, each installed an average of 64 tracking devices onto visitors’ computers, usually without any warning. A dozen such sites each installed over 100 tracking devices.
In response, the FTC has proposed a Do Not Track list, similar to the Do Not Call registry for telemarketers, and many software solutions have cropped up to meet the demand for online privacy protection. If you’re looking to install a browser add-on to protect your privacy while you’re online, however, the number of software options can be overwhelming. With so many different choices available, it’s difficult to distinguish which products are effective, which companies are trustworthy, and which features will benefit you most.
Frequently asked questions about online privacy tools:
Q: What features do I need for online privacy?
A: That depends on what your goals are. Do you just want to stop behavioral advertising networks from recording information about what sites you visit and what you click and sharing that information with others? Perhaps you don’t want your searches all saved and correlated to you? Maybe you don’t want spam on your personal phone or email? Or maybe you’re concerned about hackers figuring out your commonly used passwords. There are many tools available today to handle all of these concerns.
Q: Does an ad-blocker give me online privacy?
A: No. Ad-blockers stop ads from being shown but they don’t stop you from being tracked.
Q: Should I delete cookies?
A: Cookies can be both good and bad. The good: cookies can both help sites bring you personalized experiences without logging in. The bad: sites can use them to track and store data about you over time without your permission. Our recommendation if you’re not a super-technical user: allow cookies to be put on your computer when you’re visiting sites, but remove all types of cookies each time you close your browser. This way, you’ll run into minimal problems and still maintain a greater degree of privacy.
We (Abine – the Online Privacy Company) have done some research and taken a mixture of different kinds of popular online privacy software options (partly determined by number of monthly downloads and reputation for quality) and broken them down by the features that come standard with the free version. For each product, we’ve also compiled the browsers on which it’s compatible, the company or developer behind it, a summary of its features, and a website where you can find more information. Keep in mind that features change quickly, and please make sure to let us know if you find any inaccuracies.
We hope that this article helps you make a meaningful choice when it comes to protecting your online privacy. Remember: you can stop advertisers’ tracking of your internet activity. The sooner you start, the more secure your future will be.