4 more parameters that determine how you are tracked online :
This is part 2 of the article on how you are being tracked online. If you haven’t read the part 1 yet, be sure to check it out by clicking here. In summary, we discussed about the 7 parameters that are used to track every individual’s online activity. We went over how IP Addresses can give out information about your location, the device you use, and how to spoof your IP address to stop your device from leaking information about you and so on.
We have already discussed about MAC address and how it can be used to identify personal details such as full name, address, phone number and so on and how to spoof your MAC address. The third parameter we looked at was cookies, how cookies store data and how to clear cookies from your device. Now we shall go over the next four parameters i.e GPS data, User agents, Website trackers and DNS Queries.
GPS Data :
GPS or Global Positioning System is a location based tracking system which can be tracked online to reveal details of where exactly an individual is located. Services such as Google Maps use GPS data to pin-point your location with an accuracy of upto 5 metres! An IP address also reveals details of the location and reveals which city an individual is located. Most of the modern devices that we use today are GPS enabled devices.
There are many advantages to using GPS – the first and foremost being able to use navigation services such as Google Maps, Apple Maps and others. Secondly, if GPS service is turned on on a device, it can be tracked if it is ever stolen or lost. But most people leave their GPS on even though they aren’t actively using it. Services like Google and Facebook make use of this data to serve you advertisements based on your geographical location. This means your location data is also being sold to third party companies to serve you with advertisements.
There are two steps to completely stop your location from being shared to the internet. The first step is to turn off the GPS setting in your device when you are not using it. This prevents your device sharing your precise location data to the websites you visit. The added benefit of turning off GPS when not in use is that it can help improve battery life of the mobile devices. The second step is to use a VPN to spoof your IP address. This ensures that your IP Address doesn’t give out information pertaining to your location.
User Agents :
User agents are the browsers you use on your device. When you visit any website, it immediately knows which browser you are using. User agents also give out information about your hardware such as the Operating System that you are currently using (whether it be Windows/ Mac or linux), the screen resolution (the screen size), the version of operating system that is used (Windows 7/8/10 etc), if the device is a desktop/laptop/mobile/tablet and so on.
Although you definitely need a user agent (or a browser) to browse the internet, you can choose browsers such us Brave Browser, Firefox etc. These browsers are built keeping privacy in mind and hence they share as little information as possible to the internet. Using privacy focused browsers also ensures that you are not tracked online to a certain extent.
Website Trackers :
There are many different kinds of website trackers ranging from adware (advertisements) to analytics tools (used to track each and every visitor on the website). For companies and web developers, analytics are extremely important to track the performance of their website. Information like which page is the most frequently visited, how many visits is the website getting and on which page do people tend to stay for a longer time, where is the geographical location of the visitor and so on. These details can then be used to modify the contents of the website as per the performance seen through the analytics tools.
Since website trackers also collect data on a user’s location and what not, these can be used to identify who you are on the internet and make a profile for you and serve targeted adverts pertaining to your interests. Tools like Ghostery (an extension for Chrome and chromium based browser) can be used to prevent website trackers. uBlock Origin is another popular tool that is available as an extension for all major browsers which can be used to block website trackers.
DNS Queries :
DNS queries are slightly complex to understand. So lets break it down and see how DNS queries are used to identify all the websites you visit. The device that has internet access needs to be connected to a Nameserver. Nameserver identifies the domain name and map with an IP Address.
Let’s say you type in www.google.com into your browser. This is first sent to the Nameserver and the Nameserver checks the IP address of www.google.com and returns that IP Address to your browser. Computers use IP addresses to communicate with one another whereas domain names are used for humans to understand the internet since memorizing millions of IP addresses is simply impossible.
The Nameservers such as Google’s Nameserver (18.104.22.168) keeps a log of the devices that are making DNS requests to its Nameserver. Thus they will be aware of all the website you visit by tracking your IP Address and mac address. In order to stop this from happening you can use tools that change the default Nameserver of your devices.
Tools such as 22.214.171.124 (by Cloudflare), Quad9 (126.96.36.199) and many others are privacy focused Nameserver which ensures that the requests you make remain hidden and are not shared with anyone else. I personally use 188.8.131.52 by Cloudflare on all my devices. This ensures that all the DNS queries or requests you make are not sent to Google, but rather sent to the Cloudflare’s Nameserver and thus improving your privacy.
By spoofing or hiding the 7 factors that we have seen ensures that you have maximum privacy and anonymity on the internet without your location or personal details being revealed to all the websites you visit and thus prevents you from being tracked online.