There’s no doubt the Internet is convenient and can affect our lives in a positive way—but are we making some sacrifices to enjoy such a convenience? If you’ve been an Internet user for many years, you’ve probably come across at least one dangerous thing on the net.
Hackers, malware and Internet scams are all too common, and of course they can have a negative impact on your life, but there are also some other dark and creepy things about using the Internet you may not have even heard of yet.
To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here are four creepy things the Internet does when you are online.
1. Tracks Your Location
Every time you connect to the Internet, your location is being tracked. Websites use your IP address to determine where you are at the time you’re visiting their site, and if you’re a Windows 10 user, the chances are the apps you’re using are as well. There is also GPS on many Internet-enabled devices, which can literally track you wherever you go, down to the exact address.
The best way to avoid this from occurring is to check your settings on your devices and disable location or GPS. But that won’t help you as far as your IP address goes. For that, you’ll need a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service to assist you in protecting your privacy online.
As mentioned in this VPN review by Secure Thoughts, VPNs block your IP address. When you connect to the VPN, your Internet traffic is routed through a remote server, which makes your Internet connection encrypted and your location (and IP address) shown as that of the remote server instead of your own.
2. Spies on You
Websites and services are always watching what you do when you use them. Whenever you visit a page, click on a link or load an app that’s connected to the net, what you do is being recorded. In many cases, this serves simply as diagnostic data for services: did anything go wrong while you were using the service? When? What were you doing?
But this data is also used to understand your behaviors and tailor services to better get across the message they want you see. This information is used in studies, and we’re not talking about the kinds to help save the earth.
You’ve probably seen the warnings on your mobile devices when you go to install an app: “This app needs access to your contacts, your camera, your phone, your messaging service, your…” and the list continues. Functionally, an app that sends messages needs to be able to read your messages, but there are enough apps that don’t need do.
Knowing your contacts helps establish a profile of who you are and whom you know. It’s anybody’s guess how many different things this info can be used for, but it’s decidedly creepy. Ultimately, much of that information goes to exactly what purpose you’d probably imagine.
3. Sends You Targeted Ads
This is the feature of Internet search engine and personal profile shenanigans we’re most familiar with by this point, but every now and then it gets under your skin. For example, you’re watching videos on YouTube and suddenly realize you keep getting ads for shoes. At the time it doesn’t seem to mean much, but then you realize you were shopping for shoes online recently.
In some cases it gets a little weirder. You weren’t actually shopping online for shoes, but when you visited Journey’s, you gave them your email address, and they sent you a receipt. Well, Google recognized that email and decided to tailor your video ads to show information about shoes.
Everything you do online ultimately leads to advertising. While there are some options to opt out of customized ads, much of it remains beyond your control with the exception of location-based ads; if you’re hiding behind a VPN, those ads will be targeted at your perceived IP address rather than your actual location.
Ads can also be handled by using services such as Adblock Plus, a free extension for Firefox and Google Chrome that helps to hide and remove ads from pages. Blur is also a good extension as it tells you when websites are tracking you and helps block them from doing so.
Some degree of targeting is inevitable if you shop online. Amazon knows what you buy from your account and recommends related purchases, just the same as eBay. Nearly all online shopping sites compile your data to try to get you to buy something else.
The most nefarious purpose of all is one that big companies such as Apple and Google claim they aren’t majorly capitalizing on.
4. Shares Your Information
All the data you send and receive online leaves a trail. That location information we discussed and the targeted ads don’t just come from one place; companies buy and sell this information. Your browsing data could easily be part of a package deal for an advertising company, along with thousands or millions of others.
This is something you’ve no doubt discovered in your spam box. You start getting emails for something you never searched for or never visited a page for. For some reason you’re subscribed to these emails without your consent.
The reason is because your personal profile data’s been bought and paid for. It’s not like an autodialer system that just calls every number in the phone book to advertise (that’s illegal now, by the way); there are an unlimited number of email addresses, and they are acquired when you submit your email to different services that don’t keep it confidential.
Social media is notorious for sharing information you’d prefer not to let others know indirectly. Privacy settings can be so complex and ever changing that you suddenly realize anyone who searches your name can locate your phone number, home address, place of work and come up with a pretty convincing list of people you know in real life.
If that’s not creepy, I’m not sure what is!
Are there any creepy facts about the Internet you’d like to share with us? Let us know in the comments section.
About the Author: Cassie is an Internet security expert and blogger for CultureCoverage.com. Given that security breaches have become more common online, she especially focuses on helping others learn more about how they can stay safe on the Internet.