WHY YOU MUST BLOCK ONLINE TRACKERS NOW
I already block third-party cookies – won’t that stop tracking?
Although blocking third-party cookies in your browser helps prevent companies from following you around the web, it’s no longer enough to stop your data being collected, shared and used to build a profile of things you’re interested in. In fact, tracking companies now rely less on the traditional method of using cookies to target you with ads based on your perceived interests.
What, even Google?
Especially Google, which plans to phase out third-party cookies in its Chrome browser by late 2024. It has been conducting trials of new tracking systems as part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative – the first one, called FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) was abandoned at the start of the year, following concerns from other browser developers and privacy groups. It was replaced by Topics, which shows you adverts based on the types of websites you visit. Google believes that Topics offers greater privacy than cookies, because it groups you with other Chrome users who have similar interests, rather than using unique identifiers. However, by scrapping cookies in Chrome in favour of its own system, Google may actually gain more control of your data.
What about other companies that track us?
Web giants including Amazon and Facebook are now shifting to ‘first-party’ tracking, which means they’re focusing more on your activities across their own websites and apps, rather than following you around the web. They’re then selling this data to advertisers who can target you accordingly on Amazon and Facebook services.
Even Apple, which has been praised for introducing tighter privacy controls, still allows tracking within its own products. Recently, it started showing ads for apps “you might also like” in the Apple App Store.
So tracking is still about showing us ads?
Only partly. As we explain in this feature, there are now many different ways for companies and criminals to track you, and a multitude of reasons for them doing so. These include secret methods for uniquely identifying you, gathering your personal information and spying on the sites you visit online as well as the places you go offline.
But hasn’t this been happening for ages?
Yes, but tracking techniques are constantly becoming more sophisticated and devious, to circumvent the anti-tracking features now offered by privacy tools. They’re set to gather more of our data than ever in 2023, which is why it’s essential to address them now. Here are the 10 current biggest threats to your privacy and how to stop or at least limit their tracking.