How to Prevent Social Networks from Tracking Your Internet Activities
+Nik Cubrilovic discovered last week that Facebook could track your web activities even after you logged out of your Facebook account. After some blatant denials from Facebook spokespeople, Facebook decided to fix the logout issue, but not before +Michael Arrington, on his new Uncrunched blog, made a concise post revealing Facebook's dishonesty: Facebook submitted a patent application for "tracking information about the activities of users of a social networking system while on another domain" on September 22nd, 2011.
Although I discussed how to deal with the issue briefly in Everything You Need to Know About the New Facebook, the truth is that Facebook is not the only social network interested in tracking you and your web activities. Google is also interested in what you buy, what you like to click, and where you spend most of your time online. If you're logged into your Google account, all this activity is tracked. For the most part, I think the tracking is harmless, and it helps better target their text ads. However, for a growing number of people, this sort of tracking is just another sign of further erosion of our online privacy.
- Although I'm providing you with the best information I can find, I'm no coder or programmer, and the advice I'm covering does not mean that you will never be hacked, that you will never have your information leaked, etc. (I do welcome feedback and suggestions from informed people, and will update this post to include any helpful advice.)
- Often, the best defense is simply to get rid of your bad habits. I have a bad habit of leaving myself logged into accounts on other people's computers. This is VERY STUPID and I KNOW IT. I'm working on not doing this anymore, and I like to think I've improved, except this morning my husband told me he "liked" something on his computer while I was still logged into Facebook. Oops.
There are some great extensions out there that will help you maintain your privacy in what seems to be an uphill battle against the very sites you do love.
- Disconnect is a browser extension that is available for Firefox, Chrome and Safari. It will allow you to "depersonalize" searches made on Google and Yahoo, disable third-party sites like Google or Twitter or Facebook from tracking your information. You can also "unblock" apps to do stuff like play games in Facebook. Created by +Brian Kennish.
- Facebook Disconnect is an older extension, from the same creator, that blocks traffic from third-party sites to Facebook's servers, while still allowing you to use Facebook.
- ShareMeNot is a Firefox add-on that prevents third-party sites like Facebook or Twitter from collecting data on you unless you click on the "Like" or "Tweet" buttons.
- AdBlock Plus is an extension available for both Chrome and Firefox that allows you to block all online ads. One note: many of the sites you know and love, including WonderHowTo, depend on advertising revenue to provide you with free content. Make sure you whitelist the sites you do like in order to continue supporting them. To do so, go into the Extensions menu on your browser, select AdBlock Plus, and click on "Customize". You can customize AdBlock in several ways, as shown below. You can block an ad by its URL, hide a section of a webpage, or allow ads to show on a specific page or domain.
Furthermore, you can also add filters in the "Manually edit your filters" section, and add the following filters to get rid of Facebook tracking:
"Like" buttons will no longer appear on the page, and your traffic will not be sent to Facebook even if you're logged in. (Saw this on MetaFilter.) If you're interested, or have time, you can check out AdBlock Plus Filters to further customize your browsing experience.
For Google Chrome:
- Go to the Chrome menu.
- Select Clear Browsing Data.
- You will see the following menu pop up:
- Select what you want to get rid of, and the time period, and click on Clear Browsing Data.
- Go back to the Chrome menu, and select Preferences.
- Click on Under the Hood. Click on Content Settings. For each section, you'll have the choice to run things automatically, block, or ask you when you want something to run. Google Chrome automatically chooses what's recommended, but you can change those settings easily. If you choose to block or not allow a site to track your activities, you might also want to click on the Manage Exceptions button to allow the sites you do trust to run. For the Cookies section, make sure you select "Clear cookies and other site and plug-in data when I quit my browser".
- Go to the Firefox menu.
- Select Preferences. Click on the Privacy tab. You can check the "Tell web sites I do not want to be tracked" option.
- Firefox defaults to remembering your history as shown in the drop-down menu below. You can choose to "Never remember history", which turns all your Firefox browser sessions into private browsing. If you choose this option, Firefox will not remember any history at all whenever you use it.
- If you select "Use custom settings for history", you will see a number of options. Maybe you want to keep your download history, but not your browsing history. Or you don't want to accept any cookies at all. You can also choose to clear your history whenever Firefox is closed. Use what's best for you.
For the truly paranoid, just turn on Incognito mode in Chrome, or Private Browsing for Firefox. Nothing about your search history or website visits is kept during these sessions.
- Go to File.
- Select New Incognito Window. (Your extensions will be disabled for these sessions, although you can re-enable them individually.)
- Go to Tools.
- Select Start Private Browsing. You will see the following pop-up menu. Click on "Start Private Browsing" to begin your session.