Do you ever watch video tutorials or shop around online for something then go to a search engine site, such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, and see advertisements for items similar to those you were researching? While these advertisements can help consumers narrow in on great deals and it’s convenient to come back to your computer a day or more later and still have your previous search history available, it can also be concerning that sites are able to track and display content specific to you. So, how do websites know so much about you, and what are some ways that you can mask your identity?

Cookies - Not Grandma’s Recipe.

When you go to a website, the site can place a private text file, called a Cookie, on your computer. This is done so that if you surf away from that site then return, the original site will remember your login, searches, etc. Cookies are also used by advertisers to track what you are searching for and what ads you are clicking on so they are able to display content that is most appetizing to you. You can reduce/prevent Cookies from being placed on your computer though… and here’s how:

  1. In your browser’s settings, you can “disable cookies” from websites and/or block all third-party cookies (aka the cookies that advertisers use to market to you.) Of note, some websites do require cookies in order for the content to display correctly.

  2. In your browser’s settings, you can direct the browser to wipe all of your online history each time you close the browser’s window. This will remove search history, login information, cookies, etc., so that each new window is a fresh start.

Search under Disguise.

To prevent your search history from being stored on your computer and shared with marketers (or family/friends that you share a computer with,) use search engines such as DuckDuckGo or tools like the Incognito Mode of Google Chrome, to enjoy private browsing.

Go Completely Anonymous with TOR.

If you want all of the perks of complete search privacy without the worry that advertisers are able to track your activities or the extra work of clearing any information stored from websites, you can download software called TOR. Short for “The Onion Router,” the TOR Browser is an intricate network used to disguise your activities and Internet Protocol (IP) address, which is assigned specific to your router by your Internet provider and can expose your geographic location.