When you’re online you’re being tracked. No, actually, you’re being stalked, hounded, and tracked as if you are online prey. That kind of stalking is not going away, and while Apple claims to be a protector of personal privacy and security, the situation is not getting better.
Here’s an example.
Everyone knows your browsing is tracked by advertisers and websites (not mine). Your IP address, your computer, your browser and other apps combine to create a kind of digital fingerprint which is used to identify you to advertisers, as well as anyone else who has access to the right data. I’m thinking Big Brother here. The fingerprint is what gives you away.
Have you ever searched Google for a particular product and then over the next few days of browsing see a few dozen advertisements online about just that same kind of product? Coincidence? There are no coincidences. You’re being tracked, stalked, hunted as if you were prey. Advertising prey.
Just how bad is it and how accurate is the digital fingerprint you leave online as you browse?
The Am I Unique website has a nice list of what is called browser fingerprinting and outlines how the data is collected, what gets collected while you visit a site, and how such digital fingerprints are exploited. It’s not pretty.
Most such fingerprinting can identify a particular user by connecting them to their devices and is accurate about 90-percent of the time. New research has developed a method that can identify over 99-percent of browser users. The methodology is available to any website which wishes to track visitors.
Tracking is one thing, but any methodology that can track you down to your name and address, which can then be cross referenced to a detailed profile cannot be good for the browser user. It’s only good for advertisers who want to push their products, or government spooks who want to track what you do and why. Regardless, the tracking and stalking and hunting is done without your knowledge and there isn’t much you can do to stop it.
Only the Tor Browser was identified as being able to thwart much of the tracking techniques. Tor is free, runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux (and a few Tor-powered browsers are available for iOS).
The Tor software protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location, and it lets you access sites which are blocked.
In other words, Tor isn’t just a browser, it’s a whole browsing system that helps you avoid the trackers. But Tor is also slow and cumbersome to use at times.
Alright, if we’re being tracked online to the point of stalking and hunting, and only one browser can help prevent most of the tracking, what is Apple doing to help improve our personal privacy and security?
In short, not enough. Messages and FaceTime calls are encrypted end to end. We can delete browser cookies in Safari, but since it’s easy to track a user by IP address and create both a device and browser signature, more is needed. The Mac has full on encryption thanks to FileVault, but third party applications are required to manage and delete cookies, and none of Apple’s devices are secure from digital fingerprinting.
Thank you, Apple for doing more about privacy and security than Google or Microsoft, but this is an opportunity to take a stand for the customer and user in ways others cannot follow.