Anytime you go on the internet, someone is tracking you. Even if you think you are blocking this and stopping it from happening, your information is still probably getting shared.
There is important information you should know about cyber tracking. We have everything you need to know about cyber trackers, how they get into your devices, and what you can do about it.
From the stores you visit, to the places you drive, if you carry around a phone or use a computer, someone knows what you are doing. You might be surprised to know many companies are tracking and watching your every move. From your health data -- to places you drive, what is being done with this information? How can you protect yourself?
What is cyber tracking?
Cyber tracking is when companies (websites, apps) track certain things about you so they can target advertisements for you.
“The reason why is they want to know what you are buying so they can create advertisements for you when you go to other websites,” said Devyn Allen, Senior at Prairie View A&M University.
When it comes to getting things done, mom and small business owner Chelsea Lipstreu runs things from her laptop in the kitchen.
“I help women lose weight, stay in shape, whatever their goals may be,” Lipstreu said. “Whatever their goals may be, I get them plugged in with a fitness program and a nutrition program.”
From virtual workouts to group meet-ups online, using the internet is what keeps this business going. And it’s been successful.
“My business has grown from just a hobby to a full-time business - where I’m literally making a full-time income and because of that I spend a large portion of my day online,” she said.
While Lipstreu considers herself pretty tech-savvy, she was surprised to learn companies could be tracking everything online.
“The idea of them knowing where I am and caring where I am, really creeps me out,” she said.
What can you do about cyber tracking?
The issue of cybersecurity is so important, there are entire college programs focused on it. Prairie View A&M (PVAMU) is home to the Cybersecurity Research Center.
“We have courses that teach the students how to tackle this problem,” said Dr. Shuman Alam, research scientist, and principal investigator of a 2019 grant from the Department of Defense.
Another team just received a $300,000 grant from the National Security Agency (NSA) to provide students more opportunities to learn about cybersecurity. Several team members from PVAMU are working together to offer these classes to students. We went to the experts to find out more about cyber tracking and your phones and computers.
“They get into our devices because we let them,” Devyn Allen said. “Anytime we go on websites they have access to us.”
We teamed up with Allen to talk with people about what they have tracking them right now. Allen interned at Google and Apple and has earned high honors for his work at PVAMU. What we found, might surprise you.
“Of course I think it’s a problem,” said student Lacy Tempest, “No one’s information should be taken, especially if it’s personal information.”
“It’s really, really scary stuff,” said Joshua Thomas.
Many people thought they were blocking trackers but they were not. Others were surprised to learn just how much information about them is really being shared all of the time.
But can cyber tracking be a good thing?
Busy mom of two teenagers, Renita Douglas, has mixed feelings about cyber tracking but admits it has made shopping easier.
“I’ll be in the parking lot going to old navy (and there is a Michaels next door) or something and then I’ll get a notification to check out these ads for Michaels or something like that - I’m like oh my god that’s so weird,” explains Renita.
We are all busy. Cyber trackers could help deliver ads specifically targeted to you without you having to do the research.
“I think there are two sides for everything,” Allen said.
Tracking on social media has helped Allen’s business. (This is a little different than cyber tracking from your devices because when you sign up for Facebook or other social media sites you give permission for that website to track what you are doing.) Facebook ads helped Chelsea target potential clients. She explained that when she sets up an ad, Facebook lets her choose everything from age, interests, location and more.
“I’ll be able to choose things like what are the things that they like. If you put in target or Starbucks you are going to get the mom crowd like me," she said.
Is your phone listening to you?
While Investigating this story people kept telling us they also thought their phones were listening to them. You may think if you have ever mentioned something and then get an ad for that product that the company might be listening to? Our experts say - no - these companies are not listening. They are just really good at watching all of your other internet activities. For example, a running shoe company may target you not just because you mentioned the running shoe, but more likely that you googled something like “running trails near me” or something similar.
How to avoid being tracked online
There are ways to avoid being tracked. First, check the settings on your phone. Go to settings - and then privacy and make sure you have enabled the “prevent cross tracking” option on your phone.
There are also internet browsers like Brave and Epic that automatically block cyber trackers. Experts say you should also avoid using public wifi.
Are my phone apps tracking me?
Apps you have on your phone can also track your location and use other data, but just like with websites they have to ask for permission first. Letting apps track your location often makes them much more useful. For example, you need Google Maps to track where you are so you can get directions.
How do I know if my apps are tracking me?
Here is how you can see which apps are tracking you. Open the “Settings” section of your phone and tap “Privacy” and then “Location Services.”
You will then be able to see every app that is using your location data.
You can click on specific apps and give permissions for allowing data use while using the app, never or you can tell the app to ask you each time.
A website called The Markup allows you to enter in websites you may visit and see exactly what trackers are used on that website.