In 2022, as worrying as it sounds, privacy online is a myth. Big names have put in many resources to develop online technology that has added convenience to our lives. But this convenience comes at a cost. The price you pay is data – every single piece of information about you that benefits big companies. Fret not, read on, as we help you understand what your web browser knows about you and what data it reveals to the sites you visit. We’ll also tell you how to protect yourself from these practices.
What Information Does a Browser Track About You?
There’s a significant amount of information involved as we use a web browser. Most of this information is detected, and some of it is provided by us. The information that is tracked, in most cases, is detected rather than the ones that are provided.
Since the latter involves personal information (addresses, payment info, login details), they remain untouched. On the other hand, some information about your device and web browser is detected. They involve your device info, specifications, time, location, IP address, and so on – which we shall look into in detail.
Let us first understand how web browsers end up tracking our data:
1. Cookies & Trackers
You may have experienced a situation where you searched for something online and got bombarded with ads and recommendations on the same. Blame trackers- the chief culprits that steal browsing data to provide ads.
Browser trackers are tags on web pages that collect information about your online habits and preferences to understand your behavior online. Various websites include all kinds of trackers which can follow you across the web.
Digital Fingerprints are metrics by which your device and your online activity can be uniquely identified and separated from all other devices and browsers that access the internet. When you connect to the internet, your device will hand over a group of specific data as per the demands of the website you visit.
Some of the types of data that can form a digital fingerprint are as follows :
- Browser Type & Version
- Language Used
- Time Zone
- Fonts Used
- Browser Settings
- Active Extensions, Plugins
- Operating System, etc.
When all the available data points (a few mentioned above) are grouped, they form a unique dataset. And using this information, a Fingerprint is generated. It can contain as many data points available, and there’s a minimal chance that another device has the same set of details, making it unique– hence it is called a Fingerprint.
Your fingerprint contains a lot of useful information, a dream come true for advertisers and websites that crave and are constantly hungry for user information. Then, this information is used to show you personalized advertisements.
Cookie-based tracking is getting more difficult with the advent of restrictions posed by web browsers, so advertisers are opting for fingerprinting, and it’s about time we learn how to prevent the same. Some extensions and built-in browser features can help us prevent tracking and generate “random” fingerprints to protect our private information.
While it is difficult for us to understand what information our web browser knows about us manually, we have a few websites that tell us what information is being revealed to websites by our browser. Hop on to the next section to find out the same.
3. Idle Detection
Released with Chrome 94, idle detection is an API that lets applications know if a user is idle or active. While this detects the user’s physical activity, a few developers seem to accept and use the API to extend the functionality of their apps. The API notifies the developer when :
- The user is not interacting with his computer through a mouse or keyboard.
- The user has locked his screen.
- The user has switched to a new tab, making one tab inactive.
- The user activates a screensaver.
Read our detailed guide on Idle Detection and how to prevent the same.
Significance of Information Revealed by Your Browser
You must be wondering why websites are hell-bent on knowing information about you? You might consider yourself just another user online, hiding no secrets or valuable information to offer. That’s where we are wrong, big time.
The smallest amounts of information hold a large amount of potential to contribute to the biggest information-seeking element online – advertising. Websites might need your information to provide a tailored user experience, but it is often advertising and targeted ads that concern us more.
They use every single piece of information available to understand your usage patterns and the character of your online presence. They then use this information to provide you with ads that have a large probability of you visiting it. The objective is to generate more clicks so that websites can boast of a userbase interested in these ads and generate ad revenue.
While it is easy to be biased and hate the idea of advertisements, content creators must continue developing good content and offer you a good value as a creator. Revenue is important for this reason, and if not for that, users will be at a loss for good, free content published online.
On the other hand, privacy is equally important, and Google developed a unique technology called the Privacy Sandbox. It brings the best of both worlds, ensuring targeted ads are not malicious and protecting privacy while ensuring revenue figures do not dip for content creators online. But it also has another side to it.
Here’s more on Privacy Sandbox & FLOC and how to disable it.
How to Check What Info the Browser Reveals to Websites
Let us look at a few tools that tell us what information the browser reveals to websites.
1. Using Webkay
Webkay demonstrates all the data your browser knows and provides to advertisers and other sites. This tool mainly shows data that websites can access without seeking your permission for the same.
Webkay is a great website to understand the specific information that is revealed to the website from each area that is tracked. Visit the official webkay website to scroll through the list of information your browser reveals about you.
This includes location, software details, hardware information, connectivity (including public IP address), social media where you’re logged in, ClickJacking, Auto-Fill Phishing, Gyroscope, Network Scanning, and more.
2. Using Privacy.net
This is another great website that gives you an in-depth analysis of the information your browser provides to other websites. Head to privacy.net/analyzer to understand your web browser tracks from the available data.
3. Using ClickClickClick
Clickclickclick.click is a fun website that rather presents data amusingly. It even has audio in the background that speaks out to you and tells you what you are doing. While privacy, security, and related content online appear on a serious or a cautious note, this website is nothing like it.
After a while, it presents all the info, and the monitoring is performed. This is an excellent way to understand how easily your physical actions on your system can be tracked. Visit clickclickclick.click and get started by clicking on the big green “button.”
4. Using Cover Your Tracks
One hundred percent protection from fingerprinting is not possible, and it is only rational that we can expect partial protection from fingerprinting – especially from extensions. Here’s how to check the same.
Step 1: Visit the Cover Your Tracks website, which checks if your browser is fingerprint-proof.
Step 2: Click on Test My Browser.
Step 2: Once the test is complete, it will show the result. It will also provide a summary of how safe your protection levels are.
The below image is a test result where no protection features are enabled.
While extensions and add-ons claim to stop fingerprinting, we recommend using a privacy-focused browser like Brave for better protection.
Can You Stop Browser from Tracking Your Activity?
On that note, let us explore methods to stop browsers from tracking our activity. After extensive testing and coverage of such features, we feel these methods are the best at helping you enhance your privacy. You can use these methods and extensions to protect yourself from tracking and intrusive ads in the best possible way.
Method 1- Change User-Agent
A user agent identifies the browsers, apps, and operating systems that connect to the server. It contains all the information about your device. Changing the user agent string is one way to prevent websites from knowing what device you are using.
On Chrome, Edge, & Other Chromium Browsers
Step 1: Right-click on any webpage. Click on Inspect.
Step 2: Click on the three dots icon in the top right of the box.
Step 3: Choose More Tools > Network Conditions.
Step 4:Uncheck the Use Browser Default checkbox.
Step 5: Tap the Custom dropdown menu.
Step 6: Choose a user agent of your choice- anything other than your actual device details, be it your browser name or OS.
You have successfully changed your user agent on Google Chrome and other Chromium-Based Browsers.
Changing the user agent on Firefox is a fairly simple process. You can install the extension called the User-Agent Switcher.
Step 2: Once the installation is completed, you will see the extension logo on the top right corner of the toolbar. Click on the icon of the extension.
Step 3: You will now get different options to customize your device information combination – from OS to Browser or Device Type. Select your preferences to change your user ID String instantly.
Method 2- Use Privacy Badger Extension
Blocking trackers and ads that track your web browsing activity can stop fingerprinting to a certain extent. Privacy Badger is a popular extension for Google Chrome that helps you block trackers and here’s how to use it in Chrome or other Chromium-based browsers:
Step 1: Visit the Privacy Badger extension page. Click on Add to Chrome > Add Extension.
Step 2: You must complete the first step to activate the extension and its features. To explore the extension further, click on the extensions menu in the top right corner and click on Privacy Badger.
Step 3: The main interface of the extension displays the number of trackers that have been blocked. It has a simple interface and does what is just about necessary to block trackers.
Method 3- Using uBlock Origin
uBlock Origin is an all-in-one tracker and fingerprinting blocker extension available for Chromium Browsers and Firefox. It is a relatively simple extension to configure, as shown below:
Step 1: If on Chrome or other Chromium browsers like Edge, visit uBlock Origin Extension page.
Step 2: Click on Add to Chrome > Add Extension.
If you are using Firefox, visit the add-on page for Firefox. Click on Add to Firefox > Add.
Step 2: Click on the uBlock Origin icon from the extension menu on the toolbar.
Step 3: By default, the options on uBlock Origin help you avoid and block most trackers and identifiers from websites.
Method 4- Use a Privacy Centric Browser
Besides rewarding users for watching ads, the Brave browser offers several privacy and security features. One such feature is Brave Shields which helps block ads and trackers to enhance your browsing experience with an added layer of safety. To explore more, you can read our detailed guide on the same.
Brave Shield protects the user through the following means:
- Blocks ads and the trackers that come with websites.
- Discards cookies other than the ones from the sites that are brought visited.
- It makes your browser harder to recognize and follow without cookies.
- Upgrades you to secure connections as and when websites support them.
- Blocks malicious code and malicious sites.
If you’re looking for other options, here are the best Privacy Browsers in 2022.
We hope this article helped you understand what information your web browser reveals about you and how websites use it. We urge you to spread awareness on the same. Stay tuned to Browser To Use for more such articles on maintaining and enhancing privacy online.