Online Privacy: The Absolute Basics

Last updated on 11 June 2018

Dear Mom & Dad,

I love you. I know you use the internet to buy things, send e-mail, check your Facebook, and watch porn (no judgments here!).

That’s why I want to start a conversation with you about privacy, tell you why I think it’s important, and show you how you can protect yourself online.

Protect Myself from What?

Everywhere we go on the internet, even lots of places outside of the internet, people are watching. Without getting into political arguments, I think none of us wants to be a victim of identity theft, or more commonly, predatory advertising.

The biggest, and most easily defeated threats to our online privacy are trackers and cookies.

What’s Wrong with Trackers?

Most websites keep track of what you do when you’re on their site. But some companies, especially advertisers and social media, run small programs on other sites, so they can keep tabs on you even when you’re not on their websites.

These programs are called trackers, and they work like this:

watching and writing

Imagine you go meet a friend at a nice coffee place.

Now imagine that, when you leave, the friendly barista follows you to the grocery store, to the shopping mall, and then to the movies. She writes down everything you buy, what shops you visit, what movie you watch, & how much popcorn you eat; then shares all that with her manager and the other baristas.

Trackers are basically little programs that follow us around the internet, recording everything we do and making money off of that information.

What about Cookies?

Cookies are little files that a website can save on your computer to remember things. Usually, they’re for helpful stuff like remembering which products you added to your shopping cart.

But often, advertisers will save cookies on your computer (or phone) to identify you while you surf the internet.

Painted face

So imagine this:

Instead of following you around, the barista from before paints a green dot on your face, so when she’s at the mall tracking someone else, she’ll still recognize you. When you visit a store at the mall, they paint a dot on your face, too. Before you know it, your face is full of paint, and 10 different companies are watching you.

That’s how tracking cookies work, but we can block them!

How Do We Block This?

When you use the internet, you’re usually using a web browser. Depending on which one you’re using, there are different add-ons you can install that will block trackers and cookies for you.

chrome icon For Google Chrome, you can install uBlock Origin.

firefox icon Mozilla Firefox also has uBlock Origin.

safari icon For Apple Safari (also on your iPhone), try Better by Indie.

edge icon And for Microsoft Edge, you can use Ghostery.

Interested in More?

This is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to safe web browsing. If you’d like to read more about what you can do to be safe online, check out these 12 tips from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Or you know, we can just talk about it next time I call… 😉

Te quiero mucho,

P.S. If you have a WordPress website, click here to see how you can stop tracking people yourself.