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Can advertisers track online users if they use a VPN?

Can-advertisers-track-online-users-if-they-use-a-VPN

Are you tired of Facebook asking you to rate every restaurant you eat at right after you come home, even though there was no possible way of it knowing your whereabouts because you weren’t even connected to the internet?

Scared of how you suddenly start seeing ads of all the items you pulled into your cart but didn’t check out in a desperate attempt to stop buying things you don’t need the minute you exit the website?

Don’t like how Google always seems to know what you’re doing and when, even though you’ve been trying very hard to stay hidden, using tools like VPN for Windows?

We get how you feel.

Even though its easy to assume that cybersecurity tools like VPNs will be the end of all your tracking problems, we wish that were the case. But before we build any case for VPNs, let’s talk about what they are and how people sometimes confuse their usage and purpose with other things.

VPNs—what they do

VPNs are cybersecurity tools that let users surf the internet anonymously and privately. These tools do this by giving users the freedom to connect from anywhere in the world that they want.

Once a VPN user selects a country, the tool connects them to a remote and secure server sitting in that country, temporarily replacing their IP address with that of the VPN server. This tricks the internet into thinking that users are from another country, making them virtually impossible to trace back to their original computers.

This serves well for cybersecurity by giving users more control over their privacy and anonymity—tracking by the software already installed on your PC though; not so much. This means that if you have a code or software on your PC that is already collecting your information, like malware, or a cookie, its unlikely that a VPN will be of help.

That being said, other benefits of VPNs also include encryption, which means that your communication with the internet will be end-to-end encrypted.

This will ensure that even if a hacker or a snooper manages to get into your internet connection, they will not be able to understand what information is being exchanged.

Furthermore, this anonymity and connection from different countries and connections also lets users bypass geo-blocks and barriers. This means that not only are you more secure online, but you can now also access global libraries available exclusively to certain regions in the world.

Now, even though a VPN will make sure that you’re anonymous online and prevent you from getting hacked into, there are certain limits that apply because of certain technologies that advertising agencies use.

Before we get into this, let’s talk a little about why advertising companies track you.

Why do advertising companies track you?

Advertising and marketing companies have one goal: to make sure that their clients sell their products to the maximum capacity. To do this, they need to deeply understand the customers, how they think, how they make decisions, and most importantly, what they need.

The best way to do that is to collect data and study the sets to use the findings to improve marketing strategies. This is why most companies collect huge amounts of user data and use them to make near-accurate client personas.

These personas then help the companies boost their sales, increase their revenue and make even more money than they were already making. Now, even though this seems logical, according to most people and security experts, what is unethical is non-consensual data collecting.

Most clients don’t even know their online activities are being tracked thanks to a lack of laws on online security; companies don’t even have to tell you that they are collecting your data.

And yes, some of these companies can still track you even if you are using a VPN. But don’t worry. There are still ways to get around this situation. Here are all the ways you can still get tracked, even if you’re using a VPN—and how to get around them.

Cookies

Cookies are small pieces of code that websites often use to identify their customers. Once added to a user’s profile, they will then collect and send back data points and information to the website’s data team.

These data points could include metrics like time, location, device, and even information related to your online searching behavior, like what items you clicked on, which ones you put into your cart, and wherein your buyer’s journey you left off.

This information helps companies better understand their users. They then use this data for remarketing and growing their sales and business.

Generally, cookies are harmless—but things can get risky if they fall into the wrong hands. To protect from cookie tracking, you’ll have to manually clear out your cookies every time you use a VPN.

Apart from this, you can always turn to incognito mode on your browser. This will automatically delete any cookies every time you close your tab.

Browser Fingerprinting

Another tracking technology often used by advertising companies and agencies is browser fingerprinting, and a VPN will not protect you from it. This mechanism works by monitoring websites users and learning about them through linking pattern behaviors and observing them.

A website assigns a unique identifier to visitors when they visit a website; this is called a fingerprint. Once this is assigned, the fingerprint can collect and send back multiple metrics like location, time of day, and your browser, among many others.

Since these fingerprints can collect so much information, VPNs generally can’t offer much protection. But don’t worry.

If browser fingerprinting bothers you, you can always use private browsers like Tor to keep it at bay. Another method to protect from it is to use anti-fingerprint browser extensions. These work by making your fingerprint less unique, preventing you from standing out too much.

Final words

VPNs are great security tools; but like all superheroes, their powers are limited, and sometimes external help is needed. If you’ve decided to follow any of the tips we’ve mentioned in this blog, do let us know how it went for you!

If you’re looking for a cybersecurity tool to ensure that you’re fully anonymous online, subscribe to Ivacy today.

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