3 Internet Spies that TRACK YOUR BROWSING HABITS ;)
Hello Everyone, I am Nirmal Sarkar (@nirmal), and this is going to be my Second Post on this Steemit platform. Here, I aim to make you aware of your Internet Footprints and how it can be traced back to you.
You are probably wondering how on earth can someone know about your deepest secrets?
Well, there are some ones who are regularly watching you, your internet browsing habits, and fetching out your interests. No matter how many levels of security are you throwing in to your internet browsing, you cannot become truly anonymous.
Before you go nuts about it, let me clarify this first, THIS DOES NOT MATTER TO ANYBODY.
I mean, well, technically, there are some people who gets to know your browsing habits, but, they does not do anything with that information that may be potentially harmful for you. (Unless and until, of course, you do something illegal)
So, you can digest this as an informative article, and maybe, become more aware of your online presence.
To those who have read my Introductory post about my 5 Years' Internet Journey, they knows that I attached one of my favorite fast foods at the end of my post. Well, this time too, the same thing continues, I will share one more at the end of this post. Read through the post and you will find it :)
So, coming back to the topic itself!
Any guess who can be the first to know?
1. Google: The Giant
Search Engine Spy
Think about this search results provider, getting you millions of results under seconds of searching the query.
So, how do you think Google Search Engine Works?
You put on a Search Query and it shows the results. Is that everything what actually happens?
NOPE! There's other side of the story.
Google's AI is busy learning about you and your habits as soon as you turn on the computer and hit the search button.
It quietly gulps all the search queries you hit. And not just the search queries alone, it also gulps the choice you made (i.e. The site you chose to visit from the search result).
And this continues for days and weeks and months and even years.
And, at some point of time, Google already has (or, will have) enough amount of data to completely re-frame you, just from your online browsing habits.
You yourself will be surprised to know that you probably don't know so much details about yourself, that Google does.
The first advantage it gets is that its a bot, it never forgets what it learnt.
The second advantage is that, it is learning about you not alone from your browsing habits, its learning about you from other places as well, including YouTube, Gmail, Google+ and if you are an Android user, then, Google Play too.
If you read Gmail Terms of Service in details, then you may probably discover that, by agreeing to their terms, you are allowing them to look into all Emails you Send and Receive. Well, Google gets to know about a Startup even before it is founded, when it is in the discussions. ;)
So, what does Google do with this enormous amount of information?
While accepting their terms of service, they will say, they will use this information to 'improve their quality of service'. And to be honest, it is not wrong. Over the years, Google has developed and this only possible due to the fact that it could gather so much user information.
In short, it sells your browsing habits to Advertisers.
If you like some specific brand, and have searched about it, it will notify the brand about your interest, and in turn, you will start seeing ads from the brand very soon.
Over the years, you may feel that Google is showing search results that you want to see more and more. It is adapting to your interests. That's only due to the fact that it tracks you. All the time.
I have talked with some bloggers and internet marketers and they have said me that they don't use Google Chrome browser at all. They use Firefox instead. They suspect that somewhere within Google Chrome Browser, you may be traced.
Incognito Mode: Does that Help?
You are kidding me, right?
I mean, are you actually asking me whether Incognito Mode will be able to protect you??? ;)
Its a big NO.
Incognito or Private Mode isn't actually private. Its a mask that you wear!
INCOGNITO MODE IS THE SAME NORMAL BROWSING MODE, THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BEING, YOUR BROWSING HISTORY WON'T BE SHOWN IN THE 'HISTORY' TAB.
So, basically, what it does is, it helps your search and browsing history to remain private and not show up in the 'History' section.
Yes, additionally, it allows you to browse as a guest, not from your linked Google Account.
But, don't think that if you are using Incognito Mode, Google isn't knowing that!
Even if you use Incognito Mode, you will be browsing from the Same Ip Address, Same Internet Connection, Same Device. Does it even matter whether you are logged in or not? Google just knows its you!
It does not take much effort for Google to find out that it is you who is browsing from incognito mode. Well, maybe it respects your privacy and won't sell off that data to anyone, but, my point being, you are being traced! There's no hiding behind Incognito Mode! :)
If you open up 100+ Incognito Tabs on Google Chrome Android App / iOS App, you will find this Smiley :) OMG! What does it mean? Dear Google, please stop! :p
Anyways, Don't worry, that's not of my interest here. Leave it there. Let's proceed to the 2nd place where your internet record may be created!
2. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP):
Trust me, if there is someone who knows you MORE THAN GOOGLE DOES, then thats your ISP for sure.
Why and How?
Well, Google may be the first one to learn about your internet queries, but it has one big limitation. It can't follow all your internet footprints.
I mean, you searched something up. You saw some results. You clicked on any one of them. Google noted everything till now.
But once you leave Google and visit that website, Google does not have any information what you do there. (unless and until, you click back to Go back to Google, or you click any Google Ad from that website you visited or you log in via Google etc).
Google is like the Gatekeeper of your House. Everytime you have to go anywhere, you pass through the gate, and the gatekeeper keeps a record of it. He can't determine where you go or what you do after you go out.
So, if you click on any external link from that website, and visit some other site, Google won't know.
Also, if you bypass Google and just type any URL directly, then also Google can't determine where did you go.
BUT YOUR ISP KNOWS.
On the internet, everything is a Game of IP Addresses. You have a IP, the websites you visit have an IP.
And your IP is using the Internet Connection to connect to some other IP. This connection record is created at the ISP's end.
So, that essentially means, Yes, every link you click, your ISP Knows.
Right now, I am writing on Steemit. My IP is connected to this site's IP, that record is with my ISP.
And this is true even for Incognito Browsing. This is true for any internet use you do.
Q: Does my ISP know exactly which of their user is visiting which site?
A: Yes. They knows.
Well, the thing is, they won't do anything with it. They may just store it till the time you store Old Newspapers at home before selling them off! Finally they also deletes them from their server to make up space for new data generated.
But your information is stored! So, that may bring you this feeling of being naked!
[Source: I prepared it myself using Canva]
3. Your VPN Service Provider:
"The full form of VPN is Virtual Private Network, which means it will set up a private network over the internet for you. Your real IP will be changed, and you cannot be traced back. It also helps to unblock the geographical restrictions." - HiTricks.com (my own blog)
Being a tech blogger, I had to write quite a few articles on VPN on my blog till now. I just quoted my definition about VPN directly from there.
So, VPN is all about changing the IP, and becoming anonymous.
If you think, well, the VPN technology almost succeeded to provide you the privacy you need.
First of all, it changes the IP Address, so, this time, even Google does not know who are you, if you choose to be anonymous.
In fact, it works, somehow. Google can't trace you, the website trackers are blocked, and your location is changed. You pretty much get the privacy you wished.
But, amongst all this, there lies a loophole, a very big one.
The Fault lies in the service provider itself.
Yes, VPN is surely protecting you, but in doing so, it is itself becoming the direct witness of your internet browsing habits.
What I mean is, you are surely protected from outside, but from the inside, the VPN service is knowing everything.
The VPN builds an encrypted tunnel for you to browse. Think of it like this, whatever you are throwing in, it is duly scanned by the VPN to make sure your connection isn't compromised. So, it is knowing all of you.
We don't keep Browsing Logs:
[Source: Okay, I made this one with Canva too]
Well, good thing they does not, hopefully!
But notice that once again, what they are saying: We don't 'KEEP' / 'STORE' Browsing Logs.
So, what that means is that, Yes, Browsing Logs are being Generated, and We do have access to it. But we choose not to Keep or Store it.
So, if they want, they can just sit on their computer watching the sites you visit. Yes, they won't store it, but, they can surely sneak into it.
Again, let me assure you. They DOES NOT DO THAT EITHER.
Firstly, if they are respecting our privacy, then there's no point doing that. Secondly, nobody has time to check on their customers. They can, in fact, spend that effort in getting some fresh customers. :)
BONUS: SO WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I USE TOR BROWSER?
So, here we come, ultimately. To the so called privacy-giant.
Tor, or the Onion Router, is a software that helps you become anonymous and stop getting tracked.
In fact, this was made only for the purpose of staying hidden from surveillance. So, the technology uses far greater security methods to ensure your privacy.
In short, Tor has a lot of servers worldwide, from a no of volunteers. It simply encrypts your data and routes it through the server relays, from one server to another, in a totally random fashion, in such a way that it becomes untraceable towards the initial sender. (Reminder, that's not everything what happens in Tor, but I ain't discussing How Tor works here in this article, this is just to give an idea)
In fact, GREAT! It cannot be traced back to the owner. Fine.
But, well, loopholes again! This time, its from the servers itself.
The more and more users are using Tor, the more and more these servers are used to in relaying. While the information routed through these servers remain kind of, secure, the servers, in turn, get noticed.
This essentially means that, A big Database of these Tor Server IPs is already made, similar to the list of common spam callers you have.
So, when you connect to Tor, and your information is routed through it, though the information stay protected, your ISP essentially comes to know that you are connected to one of the Tor Server IPs.
So, they knows you are using TOR. That essentially means they can sit back there, tracking the 'time' you are spending on Tor network. So, at the end of the day, they will have a detailed list of people trying to anonymize themselves using Tor. That list will contain the information about the 'TIME' too.
Like, when and for how much Time was the user connected to TOR.
So what? Does it affect anything?
Yes, it does.
Well, Using Tor you can become anonymous, but you can't hide the fact that you are trying to become anonymous.
In fact, you already revealed the first half of yourself, that is, you revealed that yes, you are the one who is doing something hiding from everyone.
That's where the issue still remains.
People who wants to become truly anonymous needs to hide the fact too, that they are hiding themselves.
So, using Tor alone won't help.
Is there No Solution?
There is, actually. But its limited. Using it we can create a greater level of anonymity, but we can never become truly anonymous and undetectable.
If we combine all our available resources together, then maybe its possible to achieve a better anonymity.
For example, Using a Tor+VPN together.
In fact, people have added more layers to it by using VPN+TOR+VPN, randomizing IP Address every few seconds, and other combinations.
If you browse about Dark Web ('about', not 'on'), then you will come to know several ways to make yourself anonymous.
Well, this article isn't about How to become anonymous, rather, I aimed to take a closer look at our available so-called privacy tools, and let you know up to what extent can it protect you.
In the recent months, a lot of Torrent Service providers went out of operation, including ThePirateBay, Extratorrent, and the giant torrent search engine Torrentz. Just think, if complete anonymity was possible entirely, why would these websites go down one by one? In fact, the ones currently live may also be down some time in the future.
Well, between Google and your ISP, Google gets limited information, but, is able to frame out you by applying its AI. On the other hand, your ISP has ALL YOUR INFO, but it does not have any AI to feed.
Just think what happens if Google is your ISP (for example, Google Fiber). I will leave that up to you only ;)
I guess you have probably enjoyed reading my post. I always try to provide some 'value' through my writings. I hope it went well.
I joined Steemit just a day ago, and I am still wandering here and there, learning new stuff. I found this platform very unique and different than the rest.
In steemit, I get the freedom of expressing myself 'informally'
I already got to know some of the Steemians here, and followed some great articles from them. Its becoming more and more exciting here.
I can't stop writing, its in my Blood. Apart from tech, I loved other categories too, and I might write there as well. Thank you for all the support you guys had given me on my Introductory Post where I wrote about the 5 Years' of my Internet Journey: From not having a PC/Mobile to what I am today, a Tech Blogger. I just opened myself up there. You can read it here, if you had missed it.
Well, If you had read till now and enjoyed it, do comment and let me do some networking with you guys. I will be waiting for your feedback. :)
That's all. I end here, for now.
Ahh! Finally, Time for posting Yummy Food again. This Mango Tree is of our own house. And these are Himsagar Mangoes, one of the sweetest ones out there. This is probably the only reason why I say 'Let the summer roll in', so that I can taste the lip-smacking fruit. ;)
This pic is taken using Oneplus 3. I took it from my own Instagram account.