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How to Block Companies From Tracking You Online

On April 24, President Joe Biden signed a significant bill that could lead to a TikTok ban in the United States unless it divests its American operations to a U.S.-owned company. The main concern behind this decision is data privacy. As with any social media platform, TikTok gathers a substantial amount of personal information. Given its Chinese ownership, there are fears that this data could be compelled to be shared with the Chinese government.

While you might think, “I don’t have a TikTok account, so I’m safe,” the reality is more complex. Modern internet infrastructure allows data brokers to place cookies, scripts, and tracking pixels across unrelated websites and even in emails. This hidden tracking can reveal your purchase history and other valuable information. TikTok is not alone in this practice; companies like Meta are known for aggressively collecting data and openly admitting to it.

Consequently, you might be vulnerable to tracking from services like TikTok and Facebook even if you’ve never directly used them. Fortunately, tools are available to identify when you’re being tracked and who is doing it.

How Companies Track You

Currently, there are two primary methods for tracking online behavior: cookies and tracking pixels.


Cookies are small packets of data that websites use to store information such as your login credentials, making it easier for you to access the site repeatedly. While “necessary” cookies serve practical functions, third-party cookies can track your browsing history and sell this data to firms.

You may be familiar with cookie consent forms on websites, especially if you’ve visited sites that comply with the European Union regulations or certain state laws. Although these forms are a minor inconvenience, they have made cookies more transparent and easier to block. Google’s plans to phase out cookies altogether have driven data brokers to adopt more sophisticated tracking methods.

Tracking Pixels

Tracking pixels operate similarly to cookies but use images rather than text. Companies embed transparent or hidden pixels on your screen. When your browser loads these pixels, the companies can track your activity on a website.

Unlike cookies, tracking pixels are not yet subject to strict regulations, making them a new frontier in data privacy concerns. These pixels can be embedded in site elements, including scripts that surpass the capabilities of traditional cookies.

Detecting Tracking Activities

The integration of tracking pixels and scripts with a website’s code makes it possible to detect their presence. By inspecting the site’s code, you can often identify tracking elements. On browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge, this can be done by right-clicking and selecting “Inspect” from the menu. Safari requires additional steps.

For those not inclined to manually inspect code, several tools can automate this process and provide context.

Feroot PageScanner

Feroot PageScanner is a robust Chrome extension that alerts you in real-time when your data is being tracked and identifies the trackers. Although it doesn’t block trackers, it offers a detailed list of active trackers, their operators, and their purposes. Initially designed for enterprise security analyses, PageScanner provides an insightful look into tracking activities.

According to Feroot CEO Ivan Tsarynny, who has testified on TikTok for Congress, “TikTok is not the biggest problem by far.” This underscores the widespread nature of data tracking beyond a single platform.

Blocking Online Trackers

Once you’re aware of tracking, several tools can help enhance your online privacy:


Ghostery works similarly to PageScanner but adds the capability to block trackers. It provides information on tracker origins and purposes but lacks the in-depth notification system of PageScanner. Ghostery is available as both a browser extension and a standalone browser, complete with a privacy-focused search engine.

However, Ghostery has faced criticism in the past for selling user data and substituting blocked ads with its own. Since 2017, it has shifted to operating on user donations and contributions.

uBlock Origin

uBlock Origin is a powerful, open-source ad blocker that can target nearly any site element. It offers built-in block lists and the option to create custom lists. Although it doesn’t provide detailed tracking information, it effectively blocks unwanted content. uBlock Origin is available as an extension for Chromium and Firefox browsers.

Privacy Badger

Privacy Badger, similar to uBlock Origin, focuses on blocking trackers rather than ads. It learns to block trackers based on browsing habits and regularly updates its block lists. Privacy Badger is available for Chromium and Firefox browsers, with an option to toggle local learning on or off.

VPNs and Email Tracking

VPNs offer another layer of protection by masking your browsing data through encrypted connections. Reputable VPNs, like ProtonVPN and TunnelBear, provide encryption services to enhance privacy.

Tracking pixels can also appear in emails. To counter this, consider following guides that explain how to prevent email images from loading automatically.

In summary, while data tracking is pervasive, understanding the methods and using available tools can help you take control of your online privacy and protect your personal information.

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