How often do you flip through apps and websites? How often do you mindlessly scroll through social media? Probably more times than you can count. You can’t help it. Every other app you use is designed to keep you glued to the screen.
The issue is that large corporations capitalize on your internet dependency. They track your activity and your location, and gather personal information to sell off to advertising agencies.
These companies have databases filled to the brim with your data. What happens if these databases get hacked? How easily could cybercriminals gain access to your most private details? Using a premium VPN helps you go a long way to safeguard your privacy and ensure your security. CyberGhost VPN protects you against most data harvesting and tracking.
It’s not always easy in this digital world, but I’ve prepared 7 simple tips for you to avoid being tracked online. First things first, who’s tracking you?
Who are We Hiding From?
Before we can focus on how to prevent online tracking, it’s important to know who could be tracking you. You’ll find 3 groups of people after your private information.
Cybercrime reached global pandemic proportions. It’s natural to want to keep malicious parties away.
Cybercriminals make a lot of money out of your data. Your private information helps them:
Just to name a few, because cyber threats are always evolving and mutating. Cybercriminals take every opportunity they can to spy on you and steal your information.
That’s why you should always keep an eye out for signs your phone or your PC has been hacked.
It used to be that the marketing people had to run surveys, questionnaires, and trials until they could figure out what products to pitch to whom. Nowadays, your online data serves that information on a golden plate. Your likes, hobbies, needs, wants, spending habits… They’re all out there, recorded by cookies and stored on data servers.
That’s why companies want your data.
Advertising can’t exist without customization nowadays. Finding what makes you tick is paramount to getting money out of you.
This makes tracking incredibly creepy, though. Ever talked about needing a new couch with someone and had your Facebook or Instagram feed bombarding you with couch ads? You’re not the only one.
Anything hyper specific is a sign of tracking. This can include a local business, uncommon hobbies and tastes you might have, or a peculiar service you need.
3. Government Agencies
Government espionage has long been a subject of conspiracy theories. While fancy microchips or mind-reading devices don’t exist, digital advancements have made it easier to collect and store user data.
Government agencies claim population data is vital for national security. The problem is that they don’t clarify what information they collect and how.
Legislation falls behind technological advancements. Most countries have laws protecting your private communication through letters and postcards, but not emails or text messages. Few laws protect you from government overreach, but they focus more on economic and social aspects, not digital ones.
Backdoors and Hacking SIM Cards
Your smartphone is your gateway to government tracking efforts. You always have it on you with an active internet connection and GPS capabilities.
Somehow, that’s still not enough tracking for government agencies. That’s why some countries like Russia, China, or the US, mandate backdoors.
Think of a backdoor as a failsafe that bypasses regular authentication and encryption on your device. A backdoor enables remote access to your device without your knowledge or consent. It also allows other parties to perform a wide range of activities, like:
- 🚩 Taking screenshots.
- 🚩 Sending and receiving files.
- 🚩 Changing system settings.
- 🚩 Uploading files to remote servers.
- 🚩 Installing malware.
- 🚩 Launching cyberattacks (such as DDoS attacks).
- 🚩 Activating peripheral equipment (such as cameras and microphones).
The mere existence of such a program on your device can leave you exposed to cybercriminals, so why would the government mandate one? In the interest of national security, of course.
Take the example of LAED Act in the US. The LAED Act aims to force tech companies to assist the government in decrypting user data if ordered by court. Because of the logistics behind this, companies would have to resort to backdoors to comply. That, in turn, undermines encryption and online security.
You have no easy way out of backdoors. Vote for privacy-friendly changes, contact your representatives and urge them to vote against a surveillance apparatus.
Now’s probably the point where this all seems too unfair, and we’d all just be better off without the fancy devices and their surveillance tools. Well, not really.
SIM Card Tracking
Even a dumb phone (i.e. not a smartphone) can track you through the SIM card. SIM cards connect to nearby signal towers for you to receive calls and send SMS texts, but that signal can be used to find out your location. Cybercriminals can also hack your SIM card without ever physically accessing your phone. It all sounds bad, but what can you do?
Take some measures to protect your SIM card from unwanted access. Just be sure you know your PIN number given to you by your provider first. Otherwise, you’re locking yourself out of the service.
How to Lock Your SIM Card
For Android Phones
- Go to Settings
- Select Lock screen and security
- Choose Other security settings
- Go to Set up SIM card lock
- Enable the slider for Lock SIM card
- Go to Settings
- Select Cellular
- Select SIM PIN
- Enter your PIN to confirm
- Go to Settings
- Select Mobile Data
- Select SIM PIN
- Enter your PIN to confirm
That’s it for SIM cards. Now let’s move to the online world of tracking and give you 7 easy tips to protect yourself.
7 Simple Tips to Protect Your Data Once and For All
In the battle for internet privacy, you fight on three fronts. You need to keep your private information away from cybercriminals, advertisers, and government authorities.
The deck may be stacked against you, but you can still defend yourself. Here are 7 simple tips to help you prevent tracking.
1. Encrypt Your Data with CyberGhost VPN
Your best defense against online privacy-related issues is a virtual private network.
Use CyberGhost VPN to reroute your internet traffic through a secure tunnel and encrypt your data. This helps create an anonymous web browsing experience, so much so that prying eyes can’t track what you’re doing online. Malicious actors, government agencies, and your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can’t access your activities or information.
You can use CyberGhost VPN to protect up to 7 devices simultaneously. That means you can prevent tracking on your phone, PC, gaming console, and even Smart TV.
You can install CyberGhost VPN on your router to cover all your connections.
We have an exhaustive server fleet of 7700+ servers in 91 countries, and you can choose whichever one you want. Trackers will lose your trail through our remote servers. Move virtually from Spain to Japan in a few clicks!
CyberGhost relies on military-grade AES 256-bit encryption to secure your traffic. This scrambles your information and makes it unreadable to third parties, like cybercriminals or government agencies. The encryption is impossible to crack. Due to its large key size, you’d need supercomputers working non-stop for millions of years to decrypt your information.
The best part? CyberGhost VPN comes with a 45-day money-back guarantee. You can try it completely risk-free.
Scroll, scroll, scroll, aaand click on I agree.
That’s how most people deal with privacy policies. They’re long, confusing, and feature a lot of legalese that make the text hard to read. That’s why we tend to gloss over them.
What to Look for Before You Agree
I spoke with Lesley Carhart, Principal Threat Analyst at Dragos Inc., about the key things you should look out for when going through privacy policies:
“It’s important to take some time and read the policies carefully–especially for free or cheap services on the internet, like video games, or software.
Pay particular attention to how your data can be shared, what data is shared with the service, and how your usage is tracked when you’re using and not using the service. How long is your data kept? What happens to your data if the company goes out of business or it is sold? A reputable business should answer these questions clearly.”
Once you have a clear understanding of how and why a company gathers data, you can better decide if the positives of their service outweigh the negatives. Be reasonable on your expectations though. You won’t find a single service that doesn’t access any of your data. All services need some amount of data to run, from email address services to your operating system. Just be sure you’re comfortable with the what and how long.
3. Clear Your Browser History and Cookies
Cookies aren’t your friends. Cookies hold your preferences, browsing sessions, and so much information about you.
Cookies are small blocks of data that allow websites to store and retrieve information locally on your device. For example, many websites assign you a unique visitor ID under a cookie file. That file contains:
- ➡ Your ID number.
- ➡ Your location.
- ➡ Your IP address.
- ➡ Your browser or device’s language.
- ➡ Your location when you visited that site (if you clicked on a social media post or through Google).
- ➡ Your time you spent on that site.
- ➡ Your metadata (your screen’s resolution, your operating system, etc.).
These leave a tangible log of your internet activity. They may be called cookies, but they’re actually more like crumbs.
These cookies remain on your system, keeping a record of everything you’ve done. That’s why sometimes, when you go to a site that you’ve previously visited, your login credentials are saved even if you never checked that little “Remember Me” box.
When you disable cookies, you’ll have to enter your username and password every time. That’s something a password manager can help with.
If you’re on a PC, you can use CyberGhost Cookie Cleaner to clear your browsing history and cache with just a few clicks. Browsers on mobile aren’t compatible with extensions, so you’ll have to delete your cookies manually. The exact steps depend on the browser you’re using, but you should generally look under Settings and History for a Clear Cookies or Clear Cache option.
|1. Tap ⋮ in the right corner||1. Go to Settings||1. Tap the menu icon||1. Tap the menu icon|
|2. Tap History||2. Select Safari||2. Tap More||2. Tap Settings|
|3. Select Clear browsing data||3. Tap Clear History and Website Data||3. Tap Settings||3. Scroll down to Privacy|
|4. Select a time range||4. Go to Privacy & Security||4. Tap Clear browsing data|
|5. Check the boxes next to Cookies and site data, and Cached images and files||5. Select Clear private data||5. Tap the check box next to Clear cookies and data|
|6. Tap Clear data||6. Select Cache and Cookies & active logins||6. Tap Clear Data|
|7. Tap Clear data||7. Tap Clear data|
4. Use CyberGhost Private Browser
Private browser might seem like a long-winded name for incognito mode, but they’re actually different. Incognito gets a good reputation, but it’s all for nothing. Incognito doesn’t hide or make you anonymous online. It just prevents your browser from storing browsing information on your device. It doesn’t stop cybercriminals, advertisers, or government agencies from keeping tabs on you.
That’s why you need a private browser.
CyberGhost Private Browser is the optimal tool to regain control of your digital data. We built the browser with privacy in mind, so you’ll find the perfect settings to keep tracking away.
Expect features like:
- 🎯 In-built ad-blocker.
- 🎯 In-built tracker blocker.
- 🎯 Biometric bookmark security.
- 🎯 Automated cache and cookie removal.
- 🎯 Cookie customization.
If you feel you need some extra customization to your settings, CyberGhost Private Browser fully supports Chrome extensions. Add whatever you feel makes your online experience better.
It’s also compatible with all search engines, which brings us to the next point.
5. Use Privacy-Friendly Search Engines
Google is by far the most popular and widely used search engine out there, but it’s a data siphoning machine. Google collects everything about you.
Google’s algorithm knows what you’re searching for, which links, images, and videos you’ve clicked on, how much time you spend on sites, what you purchased there, and much more.
Bing, the second largest search engine in the world, also tracks some information, though not as much as Google. Bing mostly tracks users while they’re logged into a Microsoft account. Both get some information through cookies, even if you’re not logged into any accounts.
To protect yourself from search engine tracking, you need to use a privacy-friendly search engine. Private search engines don’t track, store, or sell your information. The only downside to this is that your online behavior molds your search results. On the other hand, you’ll get unbiased results, not those based on marketing strategies.
6. Be Mindful of What You Share on Social Media
What’s on your mind? What’s happening?
By their very nature, social media platforms encourage you to share your thoughts. When you post that you’re happy with your new gardening tool or recipe, the algorithm learns something about you.
All social media platforms have embedded trackers, and they’re impossible to avoid. The only way out would be to never use social media. It sounds easy, but it’s impractical–if not impossible–in our day and age. You can still at least try to keep data collection to a minimum.
You can minimize tracking on social media in two ways. First, avoid oversharing as best you can. Don’t enter your phone number unless you need to. Don’t share pictures that help profile you or your loved ones.
If you’re on a PC or laptop, it’s pretty easy to compartmentalize your social media platforms. Fr example, you can use a different browser for your socials, and another for your daily internet surfing. While this won’t 100% prevent tracking, it makes it harder for Facebook and Instagram to check on your activity outside their platforms.
The real problem is with apps. Apps can track a lot of information about you, even outside their intended purpose. That’s why Facebook sends you friend suggestions based on where you work, or the school you go to. Because it sees where you’ve been and who you’re likely to come in contact with.
This is the privacy trade-off of social media apps. They don’t have an off-switch, but you can at least disable location-based tracking.
|1. Open the Facebook app||1. Go to your phone’s settings||1. Go to your phone’s settings||1. Go to your phone’s settings||1. Open the Snapchat app|
|2. Select Settings & Privacy||2. Go to Privacy||2. Go to Privacy||2. Go to Privacy||2. Tap the settings gear icon|
|3. Select Settings||3. Select Location Services||3. Select Location Services||3. Select Location Services||3. Go to My Location|
|4. Scroll down to Privacy||4. Choose Instagram||4. Choose Twitter.||4. Choose TikTok.||4. Enable Ghost Mode|
|5. Select Location||5. Select Never or While Using the App||5. Select Never or While Using the App||5. Select Never or While Using the App||5. Choose Until turned off when the pop-up appears|
|6. Go to Location Settings|
|7. Turn location tracking off|
7. Be Careful on Public Wi-Fi
You might not even be aware how much you depend on public Wi-Fi networks. At work, school, restaurants, malls, airports, hotels, and many other places, your phone connects to that free Wi-Fi. They’re not even password-protected.
Free internet is nice, but it’s the not-password-protected part you should worry about. Since they lack even the most basic security settings, public Wi-Fi networks aren’t safe. Cybercriminals use them to secretly install malware on your device, so you can imagine how easy it is to install trackers.
China made headlines when authorities installed trackers on tourists’ phones before they entered the Xinjiang region. Cybercriminals can install trackers like that, too, except you can’t know who targets you on public Wi-Fi.
The most logical advice would be to completely avoid public networks, but we know it’s not feasible in this day and age. What you can do, though, is encrypt your data to protect yourself.
Use CyberGhost VPN to channel your traffic through an encrypted tunnel. You’d be protecting yourself on 3 fronts:
- ✅ CyberGhost VPN hides your traffic. No one can see what you’re doing online anymore. This means cybercriminals can’t trick you into downloading trackers through social engineering attacks.
- ✅ CyberGhost VPN forces your traffic through HTTPS. HTTP sites are notoriously unsecure, which makes them a perfect target for trackers.
- ✅ CyberGhost VPN uses military-grade encryption. This prevents criminals brute-forcing their way into your device and installing trackers.
Using CyberGhost VPN doesn’t have any other impact on the way you use a public Wi-Fi network. You don’t have to do any extra configurations to be able to surf securely.
Behind-the-Scenes Data Collection
Smartphone manufacturers engage in behind-the-scenes data collection. A VPN alone can’t prevent hardware manufacturers or suppliers from invading your privacy.
Manufacturers install backdoors to get around security measures and gain access to their technology after their product is released. That can help customers in case they ever get locked out of their device and helps law enforcement agencies gather evidence in the event of an investigation.
That also means the hardware provider, device manufacturer, and device supplier all have high-level user access to your device. That allows them to collect your data.
Supply chain backdoors are a double-edged sword. You have 2 options to work your way around them:
1. Privacy-Friendly Operating Systems
For Android users, you can install a privacy-friendly operating system (OS), like Fedora, to limit data collection. An open-source OS blocks unwanted data flow and prevents location scanning. It also allows the user to scan apps for data collection. The installation process of a different OS is a hassle, though, and it might void your warranty. You can also risk losing your files unless you properly back up your data.
2. Privacy-Friendly Products
You can opt for privacy-friendly products from manufacturers like Fairphone, Purism, or Pinephone. These manufacturers aim to protect user data. Their product components from design to supply, and their operating systems are privacy, security, and freedom friendly.
What else goes on behind the scene and how can different entities still track you?
Location-Based Tracking: What Can You Do?
Location-based tracking is really hard to overcome. If you’re on mobile, it’s almost impossible to bypass these trackers. Your smartphone is designed to triangulate your location. Through satellite, network ID, or IP address, your phone is always grabbing at something to locate where you are.
Location-based tracking provides information to optimize all the digital services you use. You can navigate more easily, find reviews instantly, and even have authorities find you in the event of an emergency.
That said, location-based tracking comes with privacy concerns, especially in countries where no laws prevent company or government overreach.
Most devices we carry don’t have an option to turn location-based tracking off. You can only cut off an app’s access to location services.
The only way to actually hide your location is through GPS spoofers. GPS spoofing services are third-party services that alter data to make your device appear in a different location. Yet, spoofing your location is illegal in some countries, like Hong Kong or China.
Since cybercriminals commonly use GPS spoofing to hide their tracks, the practice can get you banned from different digital services. Online games and video conferencing apps have anti-fraud systems to prevent you from using GPS spoofers.
Spoofing your location can also render most of your apps unusable. Many apps require access to your GPS settings to work properly. GPS spoofing services will make you lose access to:
- Maps (Google Maps, Waze).
- Weather apps (The Weather Channel, WeatherBug).
- Apps for emergency services (Natural Disaster Monitor, Smart911).
- Ridesharing apps (Lyft, Uber).
- Food delivery apps (UberEats, Doordash).
- Dating apps (Tinder, Grindr).
- Games (Pokemon Go).
- Social media apps (Instagram, Snapchat).
- Instant messaging apps (WhatsApp, SMS).
- Shopping (Target, Curbside).
- Tracking apps (Find my phone, Find my friends).
Do the benefits of GPS spoofing outweigh the drawbacks? You’ll be the judge of that.
You can still hide your digital identity behind a fake IP address, even if your real-time location is still visible through GPS. While this won’t keep governmental agencies off your back, advertisers and cybercriminals will lose track of you. As an added bonus, you can still use location-based apps and they won’t crash on you.
You can use a VPN service like CyberGhost VPN to hide your IP and protect your digital footprint. It’s safe, legal, and easy to use.
A Recipe for Privacy
Regaining your online privacy in the data-mining age is a daunting task, but not an impossible one. Luckily, you’ll find easy-to-use tools that do all the leg work for you. You don’t hunt trackers down or uninstall Java and have webpages crash every few minutes.
Here’s what you need to start anonymizing your information online:
- 👻 Use CyberGhost VPN to anonymize your data and encrypt your connection.
- 💻 CyberGhost Private Browser to keep trackers and ads at bay.
- 🍪 CyberGhost Cookie Cleaner to keep your browsing data squeaky clean.
- 🛡️ CyberGhost ID Guard to quickly notify you if your email address ends up in a data leak.
- 🔏 CyberGhost Password Manager to store and secure your unique passwords.
- 🔎 Private search engines.
7 Tips to Avoid Online Tracking
Keep in mind these 7 golden rules to keep tracking at bay:
- Turn on CyberGhost VPN before you go online. Encrypt your traffic and data and hide your activity from governments, advertisers, and cybercriminals.
- Clear your browser history and cookies. Anything you did and said online can be used to track you. Make a habit of clearing history and cookies to prevent online services from uniquely identifying you.
- Use CyberGhost Private Browser. Google’s incognito and Mozilla’s Private Mode don’t prevent trackers and don’t keep your activity hidden. CyberGhost browser’s in-built tracker blocker doesn’t lure you into a false sense of security.
- Use privacy-friendly search engines. You don’t want trackers monitoring your every search and selling them to advertisers. Choose a search engine that doesn’t monetize your history.
- Secure your traffic on public Wi-Fi. Public Wi-Fi networks lack even the most basic security settings. That means cybercriminals can monitor your traffic and install trackers on your device. Use CyberGhost VPN to keep them at bay.
- Be careful what you share on social media. Hashtags, check-ins, and shares help uniquely identify you and pinpoint your interests. Be mindful not to overshare.
Is my phone tracking me?
Manufacturers never built smartphones with privacy in mind. By definition, smartphones are a tracking device constantly monitoring you. Both iOS and Android phones come with an advertiser ID, which uniquely identifies you and monitors your behavior.
While you’re connected to the internet your phone manufacturer and your internet service provider (ISP) can see your browsing history, cookies, and data usage. In a nutshell, your phone tracks you a lot.
Can my phone be tracked with location services off?
Your phone relies on many factors for location. Your IP address, GPS settings, SIM card, and phone carrier all help paint an accurate picture of where you are. If one service is under maintenance or otherwise unavailable, the other ones take over.
While you’ll never be 100% untraceable even with location services off, you can still keep tracking to a minimum. Use services like CyberGhost VPN, the Cookie Cleaner, and the Private Browser to protect yourself from trackers.
Can you fake GPS location on your phone?
Android and iOS phones don’t have settings that allow you to spoof your real location. Without your correct GPS information, many apps, including ride sharing, dating, and food delivery services won’t work properly. That’s why no manufacturer makes it easy to play around with location settings.
You’ll find third-party services that work as GPS spoofers. Just keep in mind that they don’t hide your IP, so services can still pinpoint your real location. Use CyberGhost VPN in conjunction with these services to really hide your location.
Do privacy-friendly phones and devices exist?
Not all devices are equal. Your manufacturer and operating system have tracking capabilities to track your behavior. Librem and Fairphones are just two examples of phones that keep data collection to a minimum.