How to See Who’s Tracking You Online (and Stop It)

You can block cross-site tracking across all the major web browsers.

Have you ever searched for a product, only to be confronted with an advert for that exact same product on a completely unrelated website? This is an example of how companies are tracking you online and targeted advertising in action.

Targeted ads are where advertising networks track your online movements. These networks can then use this information to target you with very specific, personalized ads.

Are the Internet’s targeted ads starting to feel slightly too targeted? There are ways to stop these networks from spying on your every move! Here we show you how to block cross-site tracking across Safari, Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. 

What is cross-site tracking?

Cross-site tracking is organizations tracking your movements across multiple websites. These networks can then use this data to build a user profile, which typically includes all the products you’ve recently viewed online. This is why you can view a product on one website, then encounter an advert for that exact same product on a completely unrelated website.

If you’re starting to feel watched, there are steps you can take to reduce cross-site tracking. Depending on your choice of web browser and the websites you visit, these techniques may not successfully block every single advertising network. However, they will limit the amount of information these advertising networks have access to, which can only have a positive impact on your online privacy.

See exactly who’s tracking you with Safari’s Privacy Report

Apple’s Safari browser gives you the option to block cross-site tracking. It also has a Privacy Report that displays all the sites and agencies that are gathering information about you.

Before blocking these trackers, you may want to review exactly which sites are tracking you online and gathering information about you. Armed with this information, you may decide that cross-site tracking isn’t a huge issue for your particular browsing habits, or you may decide to avoid certain websites entirely.

To access Safari’s Privacy Report:

1. Launch the Safari web browser.

2. In the toolbar, select “Safari -> Privacy Report.”

3. Select the “Websites” tab. This will display information about all the websites that are profiling you.

4. Select the “Trackers” tab. This displays a list of all the trackers that are gathering information about you. This includes the companies that created these trackers and the number of times Safari detected these trackers during your browsing sessions.

You can also check how intrusive a particular website is by navigating to the website in question and then selecting the shield icon that appears alongside Safari’s address bar. You can then select “Trackers on This Web Page,” and Safari will display a list of all the trackers that are active on this particular webpage.

Once you’ve seen all the websites and agencies who are tracking you, if you want to block these trackers:

1. In the Safari toolbar, select “Safari -> Preferences … ”

2. Select the “Privacy” tab.

You can prevent cross-site tracking, using Safari's privacy settings.

3. Select the following checkbox: “Prevent Cross-Site Tracking.”

Safari will now prevent these trackers from following you across the World Wide Web.

Block trackers with Chrome’s Ghostery extension

As you’re browsing the web, Chrome can send a request for websites not to collect or track your browsing data.

It’s important to note that this is a request, so there’s no guarantee that every website will honor the request. Frustratingly, Chrome doesn’t provide information about the websites that are tracking you online. However, we still recommend enabling this feature, as it can help minimize the number of websites that are tracking your online movements: 

1. In Chrome’s upper-right corner, select the three-dot menu icon, then “Settings.”

2. In the menu on the left, select “Privacy and security.”

Google's Chrome can send websites a Do Not Track request.

3. Click “Cookies and other site data.”

4. Find the “Do not track” slider and push it into the “On” position. 

Now Chrome will send a “Do Not Track” request to every website you visit. Since this is only a request, you may want to take additional steps to protect your online privacy.

Ghostery is a Chrome extension that enables you to view and block online trackers. After installing Ghostery, you can view all the trackers that are active on a particular website:

1. Head to the site in question.

2.  Click the “Extensions” icon in the Chrome toolbar. 

You can block online trackers using the Ghostery extension for Google Chrome.

3. Select “Ghostery” to see a list of all the trackers this extension has detected.

The Ghostery Chrome extension reveals detailed information about all the trackers that are active on the current site.

4. You can block all of these trackers by selecting the “Detailed” tab and then clicking “Restrict site.”

Repeat this process for every site you visit, and you should notice a significant reduction in targeted ads.

Enable Mozilla Firefox’s Enhanced Tracking Protection

Firefox has an Enhanced Tracking Protection feature that can block all the cross-site trackers identified by Disconnect. This feature can also preserve your online privacy by blocking social media trackers, fingerprints, and cryptominers, making this a great all-arounder for the security-conscious Internet user.

Enhanced Tracking Protection should be enabled by default. However, you can verify whether it’s active for your particular Firefox installation by navigating to any website. Next, click the little shield icon that appears alongside Firefox’s address bar – you should see a message confirming that Enhanced Tracking Protection is enabled.

Mozilla Firefox's Enhanced Tracking Protection feature is enabled by default.

If Enhanced Tracking Protection isn’t enabled, we recommend activating it:

1. In Firefox’s upper-right corner, select the three-line icon, then “Preferences.”

2. In the menu on the left, select “Privacy & Security.” 

3. You can now select either “Standard” or “Strict.” Note that “Strict” may affect the functionality of certain websites, so it’s recommended you opt for “Standard” unless you specifically require a greater level of protection.

Mozilla Firefox users can choose between "Standard" and "Strict" security.

Similar to Chrome, Firefox can send a “Do Not Track” request. While you’re in the “Privacy & Security” menu, you may want to consider activating Mozilla’s Do Not Track feature.

Opera: How to block trackers, and make exceptions

When you first installed Opera, it gave you the option to block trackers. If you didn’t take Opera up on the offer then, you can start blocking trackers now:

1. Along the left side of the Opera browser, click the cog icon. This opens Opera’s settings. 

2. In the menu on the left, select “Basic.”

3. Find the “Block Trackers” slider and push it into the “On” position.

4. Blocking trackers can impact the functionality of certain websites. If you start noticing strange behavior on a particular website, you may want to add that site to your “Exceptions” list. By allowing this site to use trackers, you should be able to resolve any issues you’re experiencing.

To make an exception for one or more websites:

1. Launch Opera’s settings by clicking the little cog icon.

2. Navigate to “Basic -> Manage Exceptions.”

You can add exceptions to Opera's tracker-blocking list.

3. Click “Add” and then type the address of the site where you want to permit trackers.

Rinse and repeat for all the sites that you want to add to your exceptions list.

Wrapping Up

No one likes to feel like they’re being watched! Now that you know who is tracking you online, you can proceed to stop them in their acts. You may also want to switch to these privacy-focused browsers to protect your privacy.

Jessica Thornsby
Jessica Thornsby

Jessica Thornsby is a technical writer based in Derbyshire, UK. When she isn’t obsessing over all things tech, she enjoys researching her family tree, and spending far too much time with her house rabbits.

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