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Your Web Browsing Habits are Building a Billion Dollar Industry

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By: foxpro

May 24, 2016

Your Web Browsing Habits are Building a Billion Dollar Industry - Cybrary
Do you realize that behind the scenes of your web browser and apps, data about you and me is being gathered and shared for profit?
 Companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and hundreds and thousands of other companies doing online business, gather and share information about your mouse movements, clicked hyperlinks, scrolled or viewed web page content, product and service reviews, Twitter posts and every other online activity. Every day, we exchange emails, read and watch the news, watch funny cat videos and do many other things by either opening an app, typing few URL’s and clicking few buttons. This data, including your web browsing habits, personally identifiable information (like your IP address) is:
  • stored
  • organized
  • categorized by:
    • user preferences
    • geographic location
    • type(s) and model(s) of device(s) used:
      • PC, Phone, Tablet, etc.
      • browser and app version (IE, Firefox, Chrome, Instagram, What’s App, etc.),
      • home router type (Belkin, Netgear, Airport, etc.)
These and many other parameters are gathered and sold for billions of dollars every day! Many companies operate under the sole business model of mining user data and developing better algorithms for analysis and sell this information for profit. These algorithms crunch the data about you and help online businesses to display personalized information just for you, including custom advertisements (Ads) and custom web pages that influence your mind and work to persuade you to make certain product choices and spend money on them. I’m actually in favor of user data mining to improve essential services and infrastructure like public health, water, sanitation, roadways, INTERNET access, education etc. Yet, I'm against sharing my information that can be used against me to unsuspectingly influence me or manipulate me to buy things and do things that profit various businesses. Here are a few tips to secure your web browsing habits from preying websites - 

Tip 1: Turn off Third Party CookiesThird party cookies are a way to identify you across various websites that have agreed to share user information. All browsers allow you to enable and disable third party cookies. Search for your respective browser settings to know how to do this. e.g. Firefox → Preferences → Privacy → Accept Third Party Cookies (Never).

Tip 2: Block Ads using a Browser Plug-inEvery Ad on a web page is tracking your browsing activity. Ad block plugins block the connection to the ad servers and hide the element that's displaying the advertisement. Some of these Ad servers could potentially be controlled by bad actors to propagate malware and carry out phishing attacks. Using an Ad block plugin can also reduce the risk of malware and phishing attacks. Also, most of the ad block plugins for popular web browsers regularly receive blacklist IP and domain feeds to improve their coverage.

Tip 3: Block Ads by blacklisting IP addresses and domain names in HOST fileThere are many online sources that provide IP and domain name blacklists of Ad and malicious web servers. At a very basic level, the blacklisting is done by changing the destination address of the ad server to or Doing this blocks the Ad server connection and the site can no longer offer you ads, set cookies, open active x controls or run remote JavaScript. The only downside of blacklisting servers by IP or domain names is that you's have to keep the list up to date to remove false positives and add new addresses to be blocked. e.g.

Tip 4: Use a VPNA VPN connection does not prevent the Ad servers from knowing your browsing habits, it just makes it harder for the ad severs to track your location and any associated behavioral data. There are VPN services that provide anonymity and complete privacy just like a TOR network, but the algorithms used by ad servers are smart enough to connect the dots even if you're using a VPN connection. A VPN connection is still a great investment to keep yourself secure over open networks.

 SummaryIt's very hard to prevent your browsing habits from being tracked by websites. You choose! Either you can play the same game and make it really hard for various websites to data mine your browsing habits or do nothing. Remember that by doing nothing you take the risk of being manipulated and influenced every day by these websites for their profit.  
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