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Find Out What Sites Track Your Every Click, and What You Can Do To Stop Them

It’s a familiar story. You've been searching for a new pair of kicks online. And then, for weeks afterwards, you're bombarded with ads for trainers on every website and social media platform. You're even getting emails about the latest online trainer sales. Well, this doesn't happen by accident. Instead, it's down to ad tracking software that websites use to learn all about your online habits.

So how do these ad trackers work? What, exactly, do they know about us? And is there a way to stop their snooping? Online privacy expert Surfshark has all the answers in the following infographics explaining who is tracking you online and what you can do about it.

How companies and websites track your data

Ad trackers are software programs installed within a website. They gather info on users to show them relevant adverts.

There are three types of common ad tracking: cookies, tracking pixels, and fingerprinting.

Cookies record and store your online behavior within your browser. Companies use it to show you relevant ads as you search different sites.

Tracking pixels are tiny graphics that load up when you visit a website or open emails. Advertisers use them to learn about our interests and spending preferences.

Then there's fingerprinting. The most detailed - or someone would say spooky - tracking method, fingerprint tracking collects personal location and device information to pick you out from all the other millions of people on the web.


The sites with the least amount of trackers

If you want to browse the web without being bombarded with ads and pop-ups, stick to Wikipedia. The number one digital information source is one of the least 'tracky' websites.

Researchers found Wikipedia uses just three pieces of tracking software. What's more, Wikipedia's data trackers are designed to provide greater security and prevent the spread of information, rather than selling you stuff you don't really need or manipulating your behavior in more nefarious ways.

With just three trackers on its platform, TikTok shares the number one spot with Wikipedia. Another social media giant, Instagram, takes second spot; it uses four trackers. Other notable names on the least trackers list included Netflix, online record store Bandcamp, and Facebook Messenger.

The websites and platforms that track all your moves

'Bro-bait' click website The Chive is the biggest culprit when it comes to tracking user data. It’s loaded with 146 different trackers. Many are for website performance or optimization. However, 96 of The Chive's trackers monitor your online habits, including search history, IP addresses, and what devices you're using.

Salon, a US-based culture and news site, is the second biggest tracker. It uses 139 pieces of software to see what site visitors have been up to and what products they might like to buy.

With 126 trackers on its site, NY Daily News takes third place. The fourth sport goes to progressive partisan news site Crooks and Liars. The self-described liberal news blog prides itself on exposing the political swamp monsters on the right. But with its 116 pieces of tracking software. Crooks and Liars seems just as concerned with digging up dirt on its own readers.

Two more news sites made it onto the top 10 list of the sites that track your every click. They are advertising trade publication Adweek and the daily middle-market newspaper USA Today. Both sites use over 100 trackers to monitor their reader's behavior and habits.

Barstool Sports is another popular site that likes to know everything about its users. And it does so by incorporating 116 pieces of tracking software into its sites and platforms.

The top 10 tracker chart also includes meme site Bored Panda, LADbible, and feminist digital media and entertainment website Refinery29.

Stopping the trackers in their tracks

Online snooping feels like the price we have to pay for using digital platforms that provide instant access and numerous other conveniences. But it doesn't have to be this way. In fact, there are lots of things you can do to stop the trackers in their tracks.

You can start by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). VPNs change your IP address, preventing ad targeting based on your IP address and location. 

Secure browsers like Brave.com and DuckDuckkGo.com protect your anonymity online. But if you don't want to switch browsers, you can make search engines like Google more secure by adjusting your settings. Simply click on the privacy link in the settings tab and send a do not track request. Microsoft Edge and Safari have similar functions.

And you can block ad tracking on your smartphone.

For Android phones, start by opening the settings tab. Go to Google > Services > Ads. Then turn opt-out of ads personalization on.

iPhone users should also start on the settings tab. From there, tap Privacy > Advertising. Then toggle Limit Ad Tracking on before tapping the Reset Advertising Identifier

Online privacy is something we should all take seriously. And now you know exactly what to do to protect your personal data from those snooping ad trackers.


Read next: Over Half of Social Media Users Feel That Their Privacy is At Risk

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