4 Seemingly Innocent Online Activities That Track Your Behavior

Joel Lee 02-05-2014

Online privacy is a big topic these days. Many people have heard about potential privacy issues with big name players like Facebook, Google, and the NSA. However, your privacy may be at risk in less obvious places, ones that you should be aware of…


Social Share Buttons


The web is plagued with social share buttons. On the one hand, they’re a wonderful innovation that has really helped to speed the spread of information across the Internet. On the other hand, some companies have found a way to use these same buttons to track users and build profiles on them.

The thing is that social share buttons can track your data even if you don’t click them. As long as they load with the page, they’re live. As you hop from website to website, these social share buttons can track your browsing habits and that data can be tied with your social networking accounts.

Online Dating Profiles


It shouldn’t come as a surprise that online dating websites track your profile data How Exactly Websites Track and Stalk You With Their Ads Privacy, privacy, privacy. The Internet is known for its anonymity. Without personal privacy, it would be a very dangerous place. But are these companies infringing on privacy rights? How exactly does a website track its... Read More . It makes a lot of sense, actually, and many people are unfortunately blind to it. The more you fill out your profile, the greater the chance of finding a match. Because of this, online daters are quick to fill in as much information as they can without second thoughts.


Background services on these websites are put in place to capture your input. It’s a problem that exists beyond online dating, but this deserves a special mention here because people tend to forget that completing a profile means giving up a lot of personal information.

To be clear, not all of these trackers are malicious. Some companies want to sell you something, sure, but others just want to help you find people and places that may interest you. Either way, you should be wary of online questionnaires in general as they might be building a profile based on your answers.

Disqus Comments


Disqus is a popular commenting platform that many websites use due to its streamlined nature and flexibility. It removes a level of anonymity because any website using Disqus must hook into its centralized database of accounts. This might be good for keeping civility and maximizing convenience, but not so great for privacy.


Disqus can track your browsing behaviors across websites that use the service. In extreme cases, this data can be combined with other third-party tracking data to peel back further levels of anonymity, revealing more about you as a person. By taking part in Disqus-based discussions, you’re granting them permission to do this.

Google Webfonts


I’m a big fan of Google’s beautiful webfonts Spruce Up Your Website With These 12 Beautiful Google Web Fonts Over the past decade, I've started a number of personal blogs that I never really followed through with, but some of my fondest memories rest on theme design and font tweaks. There’s something satisfying when... Read More and James has written about why it’s awesome and how to start using Google webfonts How To Use Google Fonts In Your Next Web Project & Why You Should Font choice is an integral design decision on any website, yet most of the time we're content with the same old serif and sans-serif family. While the main body of text should always be something... Read More on your website. However, there is a privacy-related drawback to using them.

In most cases, websites don’t host these free fonts locally; instead, they load the fonts directly off of Google’s servers. This means that Google could potentially collect analytics on the website’s viewers, which could be a troublesome issue for privacy freaks. Information being collected is limited, but it’s being collected all the same.


What Can You Do About It?

It’s been mentioned before that anonymity on the Internet is impossible Can You Really Be Anonymous Online? We all have things we'd rather not tell the world about. I think it's time we clear up a few things about anonymity online -- and answer once and for all, whether it's really possible. Read More . However, different degrees of anonymity do exist and it is in your best interest to protect your online privacy as best as you can. Several ways exist to do this.

Use the Tor network. Onion routing What Is Onion Routing, Exactly? [MakeUseOf Explains] Internet privacy. Anonymity was one of the greatest features of the Internet in its youth (or one of its worst features, depending on who you ask). Leaving aside the sorts of problems that spring forth... Read More is one answer to the privacy pitfalls of the mainstream Internet. Is it a perfect solution? No, but it’s a step in the right direction. Going “off the grid,” so to speak, will help put an extra layer of protection between you and any services that try to track your browsing. Fortunately, we have a guide to getting started with Tor Really Private Browsing: An Unofficial User’s Guide to Tor Tor provides truly anonymous and untraceable browsing and messaging, as well as access to the so called “Deep Web”. Tor can’t plausibly be broken by any organization on the planet. Read More .

Use private browsing. Nearly all browsers today have the option of browsing in private mode. Of the many benefits to private browsing 4 Uses for Browsing in Privacy Mode (That Isn't Porn) Read More , the greatest is “cookie proofing.” Disallowing cookies is a good way to prevent a lot of tracking services from working correctly.

Always log out. As mentioned in the sections on social share buttons and Disqus, staying logged in to a particular service means it can track your activity across many websites. To mitigate these problems as much as possible, always log out of a service when you’re done with it. Fortunately, private browsing will handle this for you.


Use privacy plugins. Ghostery and NoScript are popular plugins that can fend off unwanted third-party scripts. They have some downsides AdBlock, NoScript & Ghostery - The Trifecta Of Evil Over the past few months, I've been contacted by a good number of readers who have had problems downloading our guides, or why they can't see the login buttons or comments not loading; and in... Read More but there’s no denying that they’re effective. In addition, you’ll want to check out these Firefox privacy addons Use These 6 Extensions To Improve Privacy & Security On Firefox You are being watched on the Internet – but if you use Mozilla Firefox, some of its great add-ons can help protect your privacy and security on the Web. Read More and these Chrome privacy extensions The Top 8+ Security & Privacy Extensions For The Chrome Browser Google’s Chrome Web Store hosts many extensions that can protect your security and privacy while using Chrome. Whether you want to block JavaScript, plug-ins, cookies and tracking scripts or force websites to encrypt your traffic,... Read More .

It comes down to this: privacy is a big deal and even the most innocent activities can be tracked by third-party services. Tracking isn’t always done for malicious purposes but even so it isn’t the most pleasant concept. Be aware that tracking can happen in the unlikeliest places and take measures to protect yourself.

What other seemingly innocuous activities are tracked? What steps do you take to guard yourself against it? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Image Credits: Social Button Via Shutterstock, Survey Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Browser Cookies, Online Privacy.

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  1. Jimmy
    June 3, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    Nice tools. I use Ivacy VPN instead of TOR browser. A few months ago TOR browsers were exploited and a developer of TOR browser has also joined FBI so it should not be considered safe now.

  2. Anonymous but not Coward
    May 3, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    BuySellEggs = BuySellAds

  3. Anonymous but not Coward
    May 3, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Very funny article!!! This site itself has at least 12 trackers tracking you.... Don't believe me ? Check for yourself BuySellEggs, CrazyEgg, DoubleClick, Google Analytics, Viglink etc...

  4. Ashwin D
    May 3, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Disallowing Cookies will also take a toll on browsing experience ,but hey user privacy is the first priority!

    • Joel L
      May 5, 2014 at 6:48 pm

      Unfortunately you're right. Some sites will stop working without cookies which can be a pain in the neck. :(

  5. KT
    May 2, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    I have 2 problems with privacy/tracking:

    1. They are making money off of your data without paying you a dime.

    2. I hate all things big brother related.

    I use firefox with ghostery, adblock plus, and do not track me on a linux pc. I know the powers that be can still get my info, but they'll have to work a little harder for it. Also most of my friends and I always title the subjects of our emails and texts with profane or illegal sounding titles like "you got the good stuff?" or "lets kill something". But the email will be your typical "you wanna go fishing tomorrow?" I like to bounce around hard core porn sites, then amazon or ebay, then google search cars or restaurants. You get some interesting spam that way!

  6. Jammer
    May 2, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    You said "Google could potentially collect analytics" and then "but it’s being collected all the same". Huh? Seems like you are speculating. Maybe try actual research next time.

    • ReadandShare
      May 2, 2014 at 5:29 pm

      Kind of unfair, I think. It's not like Google tells people just what kind of information is collect and how. We can infer -- in varying degrees of accuracy -- but there will always be some speculation. Not unlike trying to find out just what the NSA does and how.

  7. Sobe
    May 2, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    ^ So much wrong with that way of thinking CJ. Just to name one example of how they can know who you are whether you use a fake name or not is by your IP address. It tells exactly who you are, what city, state you live in. What isp you use and can even be tracked to your exact home address. And that is just one example.

  8. CJ
    May 2, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    I don't particularly care who tracks me online as I don't use any sensitive sites and I don't use my real name online. Anyone tracking me isn't finding out anything that is remotely useful in finding out who am.

    • dragonmouth
      May 3, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      Just do a Google search on your real name to find out what info about you is public. Then come back here and tell us that nobody knows anything about you.

      And that is only info about you in PUBLIC databases. What data about you and your family exists in private databases is any one's guess. Then there is the NSA,

    • CJ
      May 3, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      I've had a Google Alert setup for my name for over 2 years now. Guess how many times my name has been mentioned online? 5 times. Each of the 5 times it wasn't me, it was a guy with the same name that lives in the Caribbean. As for the NSA,any info they have on me, they're welcome to it. Aside from the obligatory statement that I have nothing to hide, they are a government agency that has the ability to get my information anyway! Some of you need to remove your tinfoil hats and step into reality.