Even many of the best websites have tracking bots. You can't opt out from most of them and you aren't even supposed to know about them.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983
Tracking bots on the newspaper's website, with a link to a comics site open, have been blocked by Ghostery, an anti-tracking browser plug-in. Blocked accesses are shown in a dark box at upper right. Tracking bots are not illegal at this time.
Someone's tracking you, and it's time to put a stop to it (revised, with new information)
April 8, 2012
Revised on April 9 (additional information below)
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, The Post-Standard
We think we know about Internet safety. We think we know how to keep the bad guys away. But we're just birds on the wire, waiting to be plucked, frozen and sold to the highest bidder.
Don't just take my word. See for yourself.
And be prepared to be shocked. Even many of the best websites have tracking bots -- robots that identify you and follow you around. You have no say over this. You can't opt out from most of them and you aren't even supposed to know about them.
I consider tracking bots the most disgusting of all the as-of-now legal ways snoopers follow you around. Companies that own websites often don't know that they're allowing such invasive trackers, because tracking companies may be part of advertising contracts arranged by an unknown third party.
Tracking information literally can be used for anything -- to find out the general browsing habits of millions of web users, maybe, or to zero in on potential customers. They can also locate potential targets for further monitoring after tracking your activities in such areas as politics, pornography and medical advice that insurance companies could use against you.
Companies that collect tracking information might use it themselves or, more commonly, sell it to others. Unfortunately, there's no unified national law against such tracking.
What can you do about it? A lot. You have a big sledgehammer at your disposal. It works great at squashing these uninvited robots and it's free.
Your slam-bam weapon is Ghostery. It's available for the Mac and Windows versions of Safari, Chrome, Opera and Firefox, and for the Windows-only Internet Explorer. Go to www.ghostery.com/download for quick access to the Ghostery plug-ins.
Ghostery is also available for iOS devices -- the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch -- in the form of a free web browser based on mobile Safari. Go to the App Store to get it.
The Mac and Windows Ghostery plug-ins are simple to install (they basically do it themselves) and take up very little memory or computer processing time. Make sure Ghostery is set up to block ALL tracking bots when you install the plug-in.
When Ghostery locates tracking bots for a webpage, it shows you a small, dark window -- one that's admittedly hard to read -- at the upper right. Bots that have been blocked are shown as "struck through" (with a solid line running through them). The window disappears too quickly, but that's a minor complaint.
All the browsers on my Macs and Windows PCs have Ghostery installed. I also have the Web of Trust installed on all of them. (Use "Web of Trust" as the search term on my site, www.technofileonline.com, for more on WOT.) I would never want to leave my home page without both of them.
Added on April 9:
Ghostery blocks what are called Google Gadgets from working properly. Unfortunately, the Technofile search form uses Google Gadgets and gives the impression that Technofile Online is tracking users. We're not doing that. (The site is a one-man operation, and I scarcely have time to keep track of my dog, my parrot and my iPad; tracking users would be impossible even if I wanted to do it.)
I'll change the search function if possible. In the meantime, you can tell Ghostery (in its setup or options) not to block the Technofile search page. Look for this phrase in Ghostery's options:
"You can specify a list of sites on which Ghostery will not block any bugs."
"Enter the URL of the site, and click "Add" (or press "Enter"):"
Then type this specific address into the form:
The easiest way to do this is to select the full address in the line just above this by dragging your mouse over it with your left button held down. Then right click and choose Copy. Right click inside the Ghostery form and choose Paste.
Also, Ghostery has a problem running In Internet Explorer 9 in 64-bit Windows computers that use Vista as their operating system, according to user reports and the Ghostery website. If you have 64-bit Vista, a problematic operating system to start with, upgrading to Windows 7 would be a good idea, or you might simply stop using Internet Explorer 9 in favor of Chrome, Safari or Firefox, all of which are safer and have better support than Internet Explorer.
Some readers have asked me how they should uninstall or remove Ghostery. Because Ghostery is an extension (or plugin), many of you might not be aware of the relatively simply ways plugins can be installed, uninstalled, turned off and so on. (Plugins are wildly popular among some users of Firefox but seem to be unfamiliar to Internet Explorer users, for example.)
I've copied removal instructions here.
To uninstall Ghostery (instructions from the Ghostery website):
1. Navigate to the "Tools" menu at the top of the screen.
2. Select "Add-Ons" from the options.
3. In the window that pops up, select "Ghostery" and then "Uninstall"
4. Restart your browser and you'll be all set!
1. Navigate to the "Safari" menu
2. Click on the "Preferences" option
3. Click on the "extensions" tab
4. Click "Uninstall"
1. Navigate to chrome://extensions
2. Find Ghostery
3. Press the "Uninstall" button
1. Go to "Control Panel"
2. Select "Programs"
3. Select "Uninstall a Program"
4. Select Ghostery