You are being tracked. A vast network of businesses is actively collecting data about you – and not just you, in the general sense, but specifically you. Your age, gender, income range, location, medical issues, and social connections, everything that describes you is fair game for data brokers.
Companies like Acxiom and BlueKai have created an economy of online, automated surveillance, profiting from the collection and resale of user data to and from marketers, advertisers, and other brokers. The scale and reach of this industry can be disheartening, and avoiding its collective gaze increasingly difficult.
Still, there are ways of decreasing the volume of your data flowing to brokers and even regaining some of your privacy. Ranked from the least to the most involved, here are the services, strategies, and products that can throw the data trackers off your trail.
Install Disconnect on your computer.
In the escalating conflict between us and the organizations siphoning away our personal info, Disconnect is a rare victory for the little guys. This open-source, pay-what-you-want software works with most computer browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari), automatically blocking the data requests that won't interfere with your browsing experience – the ones that won't disable active elements, like video players and comment sections – and giving you the choice to deny the ones that might. Disconnect has a variety of great visualization features for displaying who is currently trying to track you, on any given page, but our favorite is the number that pops up on the software's icon in the menu bar, ranging from 0 while browsing Wikipedia, to dozens at news sites (like CNN's). It's an instant reminder of the scale, and the persistence, of the tracking industry.