A Brief History of Everything Wireless

How Invisible Waves Have Changed the World

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Internet tracking and what to do about it

2019-12-12 [Petri]

There’s no escape from the fact that the shady players on the Internet want to attach as much information to you as they can while you leisurely waste your time browsing the various sites.

As usual, if something is offered for free, there tends to be a catch. In the case of the Internet, the catch is knowing as much about you as possible, and selling that data to companies that on their turn want to sell you something via targeted advertising.

Facebook and Google do not offer their single sign-on feature just to make you happy – they want to tag you as you bounce up and down the Internet data highway. Tracking code and cookies are attached to you at every site, and you have very few means to figure out what is going on behind the magic curtain of the Internet’s ugly underbelly.

Killing cookies and suppressing tracking on a site-by-site basis is a pain, and many badly-defined sites won’t even work without them. Needing to do this kind of cleanup on every random site where you end up during your daily sessions is simply not feasible.

It is blatantly obvious to see the results of this cross-site tracking: look for some company information on site A, and pretty soon you will see an ad of the company’s products on a totally unrelated site B. In my case, what triggered me years ago to start looking for ways to kill this tracking was the fact that when I had searched for flights between Manaus and Helsinki on one travel site, I got a targeted ad for this same trip on a financial website a day later.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that a trip from Manaus to Helsinki is not exactly a top search item for potential flights in the world, and that incident opened my eyes to the depth of this whole tracking business.

So what can we do about it?

If you are even remotely geekly oriented, one neat way to work around this is the use of a combination of a fresh virtual machine every week, connected via a random VPN proxy from a random country. Alternating the virtual machine between different Linux and Windows distributions adds another layer of obscurity to the tracking: from the sites’ point of view, you are a fresh user who just started to use a brand-new operating system on a brand new PC.

You will still be tagged like there is no tomorrow, but come Sunday, you just dump the whole VM and start from scratch again by cloning some original OS image.

Just don’t use any of the sites that actually expect a login from you, as then you are marked again. Save those for your “real” browser only.

VirtualBox, which is currently owned by Oracle, allows an easy way to run an operating system within another operating system on virtually (no pun intended) every current hardware with enough memory, which in practice means 4 GB or more. Linux distros are less memory hungry than Windows, if you are close to that memory threshold. They are also way less tedious to install from scratch.

VirtualBox software is free, Linux distro installation images can be downloaded for free, and you can find a bargain Windows OS offer for the lowest-of-the-lows Windows 10 on the Internet relatively easily, if that is your preferred masquerading environment.

If you do not do anything to stop tracking and cookies on your daily browser, you are “marked for life” for various cross-advertising and tracking purposes. This data will stick around unless you zap all your cookies, which may have unwanted side effects on some valid sites you use daily.

Therefore use your “main browser” sparingly, spend time on killing or enabling tracking and cookies selectively on the sites you have to use, like your bank, and learn to use VPN and virtual machines to your advantage to keep the rest of the Internet dirt from attaching to your environment.

And do you really want to be able just shout “Alexa...” or “Hey Google...” to find or activate something, instead of making a simple search in an incognito window?

That fad has enough hair-rising stuff for another blog entry in the future.

Permalink: https://bhoew.com/blog/en/109

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You can purchase A Brief History of Everything Wireless: How Invisible Waves Have Changed the World from Springer or from Amazon US, CA, UK, BR, DE, ES, FR, IT, AU, IN, JP. For a more complete list of verified on-line bookstores by country, please click here.

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You can purchase A Brief History of Everything Wireless: How Invisible Waves Have Changed the World from Springer or from Amazon US, CA, UK, BR, DE, ES, FR, IT, AU, IN, JP. For a more complete list of verified on-line bookstores by country, please click here.

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