You’re being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed

You're being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed

You just spoke to your family about how you need a new juicer. When you go online, you see ads for juicers everywhere. And you didn’t even search for a juicer online! Somehow, your conversations are being tracked to show you relevant ads.

This is disturbing. You talk about a lot of things and you don’t want the internet to keep monitoring you all the time.

Who is tracking you?
Nearly every free service that you use. This includes search engines, social media websites and email services. Since you’re not paying for the benefits you’re getting, these companies get their revenues from your data.

Most companies will say that they don’t sell your data to third parties but then you see very specific ads everywhere, which means someone is definitely lying.

What information are they collecting?
Anything that you might want to buy. If you have discussed a particular hotel chain, it will start showing up in your Facebook newsfeed. Or the latest gadget you searched online.

If you mention a particular product in your emails, it can show up in ads as well. Basically, it’s all about giving you targeted ads. And as long as it’s about just the ads, it’s pretty harmless. Things get serious when someone actually spies on you.

How to stop my device from listening to my conversations
Visit the app permission section on your phone and revoke mic permissions. This way, your phone won’t be able to listen to your conversations. However, your searches will still be tracked. To avoid being monitored by Google, you can use alternative search engines such as Duck Duck Go.

How to know if someone is spying on you?
There might be spyware on your device. This is scarier than being tracked for advertising purposes. With spyware, someone can read all your texts and keep a track of all your browsing activities.

Is your device behaving oddly these days? The data consumption has increased although your online activities have remained the same?

Or the battery drains out too quickly? Phone restarts without any reason? A lot of background noise when you make a call? Strange text messages?

All these are signs that someone might be spying on your device.

What to do if someone is spying
If you think someone is spying on you, the first thing to do is update your operating system. Phone manufacturers keep patching old flaws in new updates. So it’s best to install the new updates as soon as they arrive.

Once you’ve updated the software, install a good anti-spyware app on your device. You might already have virus protection but you’ll need a specialized tool to find, remove and prevent spyware.

If you still face the same problems, you should take a backup of all important files and reset your device. A factory reset will completely wipe your phone and remove all software on it, including the spyware. Just be sure to scan the files in the backup for virus or spyware BEFORE restoring them on the device.

Doing some Web searches you want to keep extra private? Try private browsing, Do Not Track, and other tools.

A reader commenting on a Q&A about the rise in behavioral tracking for targeted advertising asked a great question: How does one browse sensitive subjects without being tracked via cookies?

For most Web activities, many people won’t be bothered that they are served up ads for cars or even acne cream if they have been reading news about the newest Tesla or visiting dermatology Web sites. But what about when someone is researching a hereditary or embarrassing medical condition that one would not want revealed to advertisers, shoulder surfers or, worse yet, insurance companies?

Private Mode
You might want to start by perusing the Web in Private Mode. Private browsing, affectionately dubbed “porn mode,” allows you flip a switch in the browser so it stops saving a record of the sites you have visited and content you have downloaded until you flip the switch off.

  • In Firefox it’s called “Private Browsing.”
  • There’s an Incognito mode extension for Chrome. This article tells you how to switch any tab to Incognito with one click and here’s information for using Incognito for specific sites.
  • Internet Explorer has an InPrivate browsing feature, as well as offers a way for people to selectively block sites from tracking.
  • Apple has had private browsing since OS X 10.4 Tiger.

Do Not Track
Not only have researchers figured out ways to defeat some of the private browsing features , but private browsing offers limited protection. For example, private browsing tools don’t stop social sharing buttons and ads from following you as you bounce from site to site.

As a result, we have software like Abine’s Do Not Track Plus browser add-on, which blocks Web sites and ad networks from following you around the Web and lets you see who is trying to track you.

And there is AVG’s Do Not Track, which lets you fine-tune the blocking of ad networks and Web analytics.

Related stories

  • Behavioral data tracking rising dramatically (Q&A)
  • Five smart ways to keep your browsing private
  • Does your browser feed the cookie monster–or starve it?
  • Five ways to avoid being tracked on the Web
  • Five ways to depersonalize Google search results

IP masking
Cookie disablers block the storing of cookie data on your computer, so your browsing history can’t be recovered later from the machine. But they do nothing to prevent Web sites you visit from grabbing your IP address and correlating that data with other information the site may have on you or your account. Governments regularly ask ISPs for user data as part of investigations and this can lead to real names and addresses. Even though Web browsing is logged according to the customer’s IP address, which identifies the computer used, the ISP can easily associate IP addresses with subscribers who are required to provide personally identifiable information for payment purposes.

The latest version of HotSpot Shield from AnchorFree hides the IP address of Web surfers and blocks ad tracking. It operates like a virtual private network, transmitting data over encrypted connections through its servers to hide the IP address. This has the added benefit of protecting users against wifi spoofing or man-in-the-middle attacks.

Anonymous browsing And for the truly hard core, there’s the Tor Project, which operates a network that offers anonymous browsing over encrypted channels. But it may be overkill if you are mostly interested in staying out of sight of ads.

Got any other tips or suggestions? Let us know

You're being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed

Related Articles

  • Employer’s Rights to Monitor Employees’ Email & Internet Use
  • What Laws Affect Public Relations?
  • Proxy Definition in Computers
  • How to Make My Favorites on YouTube Private
  • Communication Theory of a Social Media Marketing Plan
  • How to Use the Internet to Conduct Background Checks on Applicants for Employment

Whether you’re sending email, reading an online newspaper, downloading a torrent or looking at an NSFW site, assume that someone is watching you. Revelations about the vast extent of the U.S. National Security Agency’s online monitoring program have made that clear. But it’s not only the government snooping around your Internet activity. Corporations also watch what you download. There are ways to discover if you’re being tracked — and take steps to prevent it.

If You Use BitTorrent, You’re Being Watched

How to Check If Your Downloads Are Being Monitored

In 2011, a Russia-based Web site went live with the URL The purpose of the site was to demonstrate to torrent users the ease with which their activity is monitored and recorded. Public file sharing networks make their user data publicly viewable. The site compiled this data, storing it on their own servers. Visitors to the site could then type in their own IP addresses — or any IP addresses — and see a list of files they have downloaded via torrent. However, the operators of estimated that their database covered only 20 percent of torrenting activity, and as of August 2013, the site had gone on hiatus, promising to return “with something unique, innovative and fascinating.”

Ways to Hide From the Watchers

Thanks to online tracking cookies and browser fingerprinting, porn consumers everywhere are being tracked, and it’s not entirely impossible that their viewing history could be attached to their name.

You're being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed


This staggering figure is up from 21 billion visitors in 2015, 23 billion in 2016, and 28.5 billion visits in 2017. The site had 4.7 million video uploads last year, and over 109 billion video views in 2018, which equates to if every recorded person on planet Earth (man, woman, child, and infant) had consumed 14.5 videos each. All these numbers are shocking, but how does this site have such in-depth analytics?

Well, because they track it, of course. And they’re not the only ones.

It is always difficult for studies to get a truly accurate number when evaluating the percentage of porn consumers because many don’t admit to their behind-closed-door searches. But as detailed in a fascinating article on Motherboard, the porn consumers of the world may not have a say in whether their porn habits stay a secret anymore, thanks to new-age online tracking and browser fingerprinting.

How Exactly Is Porn Content Tracked?

The article quotes software engineer Brett Thomas, who recently met a member of the online pornography industry. The two got to talking about economics and while the porn professional insisted that collecting and selling the personal data of porn visitors wasn’t part of the industry’s business model, Thomas wasn’t convinced.

“If you are watching porn online, even in incognito mode, you should expect that at some point your porn viewing history will be publicly released and attached to your name,” Thomas proclaimed in a blog post titled, “Online Porn Could Be the Next Big Privacy Scandal.” Yikes.

Here is how it could happen: your browser—Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc. (we would say Internet Explorer but really who uses that anymore?)—broadcasts all sorts of information that can be used to identify you as you surf the web. As you click around the internet, you’re leaving your tracks, sometimes called “footprints” or “fingerprints,” all over the pages you visit. Ever wondered why you start to see sidebar ads and suggestions of things that you were recently shopping for online? It’s because websites track, share, and use your online activity to more effectively advertise to you as a consumer. Creepy, right?

So it’s easy to see that it would only be a matter of linking one footprint to another, and someone who knows what they’re doing could—for example—spot the same consumer who viewed their Facebook profile after visiting several porn sites.

Where Does This Data Go?

Thomas states that “almost every traditional website that you visit saves enough data to link your user account to your browser fingerprint, either directly or via third parties.”

So, for example, when you click a porn video, you’re not just sending a request to the porn site—what is called a first-party request—you’re sending third-party requests to Google, to web-tracking companies, and to a company called Pornvertising, too. And here’s the kicker: this all happens even if you’re browsing in private mode. You’re also sending other data that can be used to identify your computer, like your IP address.

All that, paired with the continued rise of hacking, Thomas says, means that a complete list of your personal porn habits could be leaked to the public. Thomas believes that it’s not only possible, but likely, that a hacker will whip up a database that can share a person’s porn-viewing history with the entire world via the internet.

This, of course, could have some very big and very serious ramifications, even beyond the potential humiliation for an exposed porn consumer.

But, there are opposing views on this issue. For example, Pornhub was the only porn site that returned the author’s request for comment for the original article. They argued against this assumption and issued a statement calling Thomas’s views “not only completely false, but also dangerously misleading.”

In their lengthy response, the popular porn site pointed out the massive amount of server space they would need to store users’ viewing histories—they get 300 million requests a day—and they estimate that storing all of that would require 3,600 terabytes of space. Not to mention that sifting through all the data would be close to impossible and insanely time-consuming. Even so, would Pornhub be honest enough to admit that they’re data mining their consumers, if they were?

Regardless, it is true that each of the internet-security researchers and experts agreed that a porn consumer’s browsing habits aren’t nearly as private as they think.

Another important point, Thomas added, is that incognito mode does “virtually zero to stop this tracking, and at best your address bar won’t auto-complete to something embarrassing, but advertisers and data brokers still get the information. I have no idea what, if anything, they do with it—but it’s all sitting in a database somewhere.”

Why This Matters

This shouldn’t be all that surprising. It’s only fact that just about anywhere you go on the internet, you’re being tracked. Not necessarily for malicious purposes, but because web developers, including porn-site developers, have become reliant on these third-party tools to increase the functionality of their sites and see what drives consumers.

The porn sites might not even be interested in saving or collecting your data at all. One major site’s policy states that it “…does not record its unregistered consumers’ IP addresses or activity.” So while the actual porn sites (who want to keep your business by maintaining your privacy) may not be the potential threat, it’s the data brokers and web trackers that could build a detailed profile of the porn someone consumes.

Regardless of if a porn consumer apocalypse is released by a very ambitious hacker, the truth remains the same: porn is harmful and research is proving it. Serious as they certainly are, these privacy risks of viewing pornography don’t compare to the societal, emotional, and physical risks of viewing pornography— they don’t compare to porn’s impacts on the global problem of human trafficking, or its dangerously addictive potential, or its toxic influence on relationships.

These privacy and security risks, do, however, provide yet another reason to fight porn and kick it to the curb. It’s simply not worth it.

Hopes&Fears answers questions from our readers and friends, with the help of people who know what they’re talking about. Today, we’re wondering about internet privacy.

You're being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed

We’ve all had the experience. You search online for something a little bit out of your normal comfort zone – let’s say, an interesting new creme brulee recipe – and think nothing of it. But as the hours pass by, you notice something’s different. Real Simple keeps coming up as your first search engine hit, your spam box is filled up with chicken noodle soup recipes from Bon Appetit, and all of the sudden Martha Stewart is a regular on your Facebook trends. The horror! But while your culinary tastes might be your own damn business, these violations are a much bigger deal if, let’s say, the NSA thinks you’re a terrorist or even a dissenter.

It’s obvious that someone is watching but how do we know for sure? And is there anything you can do to stop it? We asked some web junkies what they thought.

You're being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed

James Hodges

PhD student, Rutgers University

When something online seems ‘free,’ chances are it’s being paid for one of two ways: with your attention, or with your personal data.

Audience attention has been a premium product for over a century. Throughout the twentieth century, broadcast radio and TV made good money without charging the audience for content, because advertisers picked up the bill. The business model hasn’t changed too much since then, even if ad targeting has gotten more specific.

I recently shared a bunch of hip-hop videos on Facebook, and then got served a bunch of ads for bail bonds. It became obvious that I was being tracked and profiled by a really insensitive algorithm.

It’s been legitimate public knowledge for over a decade that the federal government monitors online communication.

On a more banal level, you can look in your browser history any time to find all the “cookies” that sites leave behind, which often report your browsing habits back to HQ.

If you want to maintain privacy more seriously, you could use TOR, encrypt your email, and browse on “private” all the time. You could go further if you want, and use BitCoin to buy your groceries. But something tells me going that far off the grid probably attracts more attention than it avoids.

Avoiding sneakiness without sacrificing privacy is one of the main ideas behind TrackMeNot, a privacy plugin I used to work on at NYU. Instead of blocking surveillance, TrackMeNot spams out your history with a ton of whatever is trending in a given month. This way you still seem like a normal internet user, but you’re hidden behind a pile of mass culture. It’s like using a smoke screen instead of trying to become invisible.

You're being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed

Peter Yeh

Senior Systems Administrator

There’s literally no way to know if you’re being watched online. You can be monitored in a multitude of ways, from a kid across the street hacking your webcam with a RAT (Remote Access Trojan) to see you naked, to a state actor putting in a splice at the phone company. Digital information can be copied perfectly, without interruption to the original data stream. Modern phone taps make no noise, because the data is just being copied.

If you want to feel extremely unsafe, Van Eck Phreaking is using a special antenna to detect the tiny electromagnetic leaks your monitor makes, and then using that to reconstruct what you’re seeing. Equipment can be sensitive now to be able to read your keystrokes with an antenna.

In the end there’s only three types of threats — your spurned lover hacking your Facebook (use 2-factor authentication, and don’t tell anyone your password), RATers trying to steal your credit card data (keep your computer and antivirus updated) and, finally, a state actor (god help you because nothing will help you there).

Cover illustration: Sergii Rodionov

There’s little more frightening than the sneaking suspicion that someone may be following you, whether it’s on foot or in a car. Here’s how you can tell whether that person behind you is watching you as much as you’re watching them.

Why Would Someone Follow Me? I’m Nobody!

It’s not just spies that get tailed. Law enforcement doesn’t usually waste time and resources following random people, but they’re not the only ones interested in the lives of others. Private detectives, angry exes, friends or family of exes, or even that guy you accidentally cut off changing lanes a few miles back may have been following you this whole time, seething and ready to give you a piece of their mind (or possibly their fists.)

Don’t underestimate how even small things can set dangerous people off. These are the easiest people to identify and avoid. We’re not saying live your life paranoid, and if you can’t think of a reason someone would follow you, odds are you’re not being followed, but we are saying that a little knowledge and awareness of your surroundings at all times goes a very long way.

How to Tell If Someone’s Following You

Let’s be clear: if the professionals are following you, you probably won’t know it. Real spies use a host of tricks to make sure you’ll never know you’re being followed. Multiple operatives observe you, and switch off at predetermined points while a control operative, in contact with everyone in the field, manages their movements. That means the guy that followed you for the past two blocks will pull off at the next exit or pop into the Starbucks you passed for a coffee, and someone else will take over while you wonder where he went. There are some ways to tell is an amateur, random person, or a PI is following you though:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings. It’s common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people walk around every day staring at their phones or looking at the sidewalk in front of them, paying no attention to the world around them. Keep your head up, and make note of the people you see and the cars you pass. If you’re not aware of your surroundings, the rest of these tips won’t help you.
  • Don’t start looking over your shoulder. Remember, normal people are the ones who do inconspicuous things. Spies and PIs know better than to draw attention to themselves. As soon as you start glancing over your shoulder every three steps, they’ll know you’re suspicious. They’ll likely drop farther back or disengage entirely and pick up later.

Facebook will let platform users limit political ahead of the presidential election. Buzz60

It’s been way overdue. But Facebook has finally released a long-promised tool that could give you more control over how the social network traces your path across the web.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the global availability of this “Off-Facebook Activity” tool in a blog post Tuesday on Data Privacy Day. It’s part of an effort to fix and rewrite Facebook’s poor scandal-riddled narrative on privacy.

Facebook exploits information that businesses routinely share with Facebook about your activities when you’re beyond the virtual corridors of the social network to serve up ads customized to your interests. They use such business-oriented tools as Facebook Pixel, the Facebook SDK and the Facebook Login.

But you need not sign into a site or app through Facebook Login for a business to share an interaction with Facebook. Other triggers include opening an app, adding an item to a shopping cart or making a donation.

The Off-Facebook Activity tool that is now available across the Facebook network lets you view a summary of such apps and websites and ask Facebook to clear the past information about such activities.

With a little bit of extra work, you can also ask Facebook to disassociate your future activity from your account.

How to access the tool

On the web, click Settings, found by clicking the drop-down arrow on the upper right corner of the screen.

In the Facebook app on the iPhone, start by tapping the icon with three horizontal lines on the bottom right. On Android devices, tap the three lines at the top right. Then go to Settings & Privacy and select Settings and scroll down.

Next, select the Your Facebook Information option, which in turn surfaces the Off-Facebook Activity menu option.

You have a few choices from here:

If you’re not keen on any of the businesses that tracked you in the past, tap Clear History to do just that. Facebook notes that it will continue to receive your activity from the businesses and organizations you visit in the future and that you will still see the same number of ads.

If you’re OK with some sites and apps tracking you from here on but not others, select the “Manage Your Off-Facebook Activity” option. You will see a summary and listing of the businesses that have shared your activity.

(On Thursday, 86 apps and websites were listed in my own Facebook summary. A colleague had 969.)

You're being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed

Facebook now allows you more access to and control over who’s tracking you online. (Photo: USA TODAY)

You can cherry-pick through each listing and select “Turn off future activity from x.” You can also click an option to voluntarily give feedback about the app or site when something’s not quite right. (Your choices are: misusing my information, inappropriate content, don’t recognize activity or something else.)

When you make various selections, Facebook says it may take up to 48 hours until the app or site is fully disconnected from your account, and even then Facebook may continue to receive activity from the outfit in question. Facebook says the info is used for measurement purposes and to make improvements to its ad system.

What’s more, taking these steps, Facebook says, doesn’t mean you won’t still see ads from these companies.

To prevent all the companies that may otherwise supply activity tracking to Facebook from here on in one fell swoop, select More Options, then Manage Future Activity and then confusingly Manage Future Activity again.

You will see a Future Activity switch that is likely already enabled; click or tap the switch to turn it off. Facebook cautions making this choice “will also prevent you from logging into apps and websites with Facebook because your activity will be disconnected from your account.”

In his blog post, Zuckerberg wrote that “You should be able to easily understand and manage your information, which is why strengthening your privacy controls is so important. We’ll have more to share as we continue to make progress on this important work in the decade ahead.”

There’ll be plenty of critics to make sure that Facebook lives up to that pledge.

Email: [email protected]; Follow @edbaig on Twitter

You're being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed

Facebook office in London. (Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty Images)

Real private investigators reveal what to do if you’re being watched.

You're being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed

You're being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed

Are you being bugged?

To find out, the first step is to consider carefully whether you are sufficiently interesting to warrant surveillance. If you’re a crook, a cheater, or a keeper of political or corporate secrets, the answer may be yes.

But if you’re just a regular Joe, run through this handy checklist: Did you recently snarf down one or more of those slightly odd-tasting cookies you found in your teenager’s backpack? Has any medical professional ever used the word paranoid in your presence? Now reach up and feel the top of your head. Is there anything there? Is it made of tinfoil? If you answer any of these queries in the affirmative, rest easy: It’s unlikely Big Brother, Little Sister, Uncle Sam, or Comrade Vlad is watching.

Suppose, though, that you are, in fact, interesting. You might then raise an eyebrow if your home or office gets burgled but nothing of value is taken. Perhaps a surreptitious Santa left you a surprise gift, embedded in a light fixture or electrical socket.

Be particularly suspicious if your furniture appears to have been moved, or you find plaster dust, which suggests that someone may have drilled into your walls or ceiling. Listen for clicks or other strange noises in your walls or on your phone lines. Consider also whether that gift from a business acquaintance could be a Trojan paperweight or Dumbo-eared desk clock. Maybe pass those along to Goodwill and, if you have any lingering doubts, call in a pro to execute a “bug sweep.”

S. Brian Matthews, private investigator and owner of LA Intelligence, says his firm performs about three sweeps a month using sophisticated electronic detection equipment. How often does he actually find something?

“The national average is about three out of a hundred. So you don’t get a hit very often,” he says. “It’s more about the client having peace of mind knowing there’s no one listening. The last time we found something was a couple of months ago—there was a whole wall full of video cameras inside a guy’s apartment. They were there when he moved in.” And presumably when he moved out, which we guess was approximately five minutes later.

What about tracking? Are you being followed? It’s not impossible there’s a surveillance team trailing you, but . . . seriously, come on.

“You think you’ve got like three PIs following you?” asks Ken Childs, owner of Paramount Investigative Services. “From like 65 to 150 bucks an hour? Twenty-four hours, seven days a week? No.”

On the other hand, someone could easily plant a GPS tracker on your car to monitor your movements. If you have concerns, Childs suggests paying a shop to put your car on a lift so you can take a thorough gander underneath. Assuming the person who’s tracking you can’t get inside your car, any device has most likely been planted somewhere between the rear wheels.

You're being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed

You're being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed

You're being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed

If you do happen to find something, take it directly to the police. Law enforcement can subpoena the tracker’s manufacturer in order to find out who bought it. In many states, tracking a vehicle you don’t own is against the law (bear in mind, though, that it might not be at the top of the police’s priority list).

But forget bugs and trackers—those are so 20th-century. Your biggest vulnerability these days may be sitting right on your desktop, riding around in your briefcase, or taking up space in your pocket, says Matthews. Computer hackers can not only monitor your activity by breaking in and reading your secrets, they can, in some cases, actually turn on your devices’ cameras and microphones to engage in real-time surveillance.

And that’s to say nothing of the data on your movements and whereabouts that’s routinely collected by mobile hardware and software purveyors, ostensibly to “improve your user experience,” or some such code for “enrich ourselves at the expense of your privacy.” Unfortunately, that’s no delusion.

This article appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Popular Mechanics. You can subscribe here.

You're being watched online how to avoid being tracked & followed

Photo illustration (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic).

When you’re on Facebook, do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched? An ad pops up that’s right up your alley, or three new articles show up in your feed that are similar to something you’ve just clicked on.

If it sometimes seems like Facebook knows you personally, that’s because it does. It has algorithms that track what you like, watch and click on, and then it passes that information on to Facebook advertisers.

Facebook isn’t the only culprit. Tons of companies use Facebook’s platform as a way to track you. In fact, right now there probably are dozens of companies watching your posts, storing your profile information and more, without you even realizing it. Today, I’m going to tell you how to stop it.

How did this happen in the first place?

When Facebook started out, people rushed to the platform because of the many perks it offered. One of those perks, and probably the most appealing, was that Facebook was ad-free. You could use the platform to connect with family and friends without being bothered by someone trying to sell you something.

Well, like they say, “All good things must come to an end.” Eventually, Facebook began selling ads like everyone else. And that’s when everything changed.

People realized that Facebook provided a trove of information for advertisers. By clicking “like,” users were telling companies exactly what they wanted – more of this, less of that, please. This led to the big data tracking we now see.

Three sneaky ways companies are tracking you

Most people understand that Facebook is tracking their preferences when they use the app, but few realize they’re being tracked in other ways, too. And that’s what these third-party companies are banking on. If you don’t know you’re being tracked, then you won’t ask them to stop. So here are three things to watch out for.

Facebook apps: If you’ve ever received a request to play a Facebook game your friends are obsessed with, and you signed up, you’ve allowed that app developer to track you. These third-party apps integrate with your Facebook profile and generally have permission to pull whatever information they want. You can edit what they can access, but very few people do.

Facebook logins: When you visit a site and it says “Log in with Facebook,” and you do, you’re letting that company track you.

Friends’ apps monitoring you: Even if you don’t download an app, Facebook’s default settings allow apps your friends have installed to see YOU, too. It’s pretty scary.

How to stop it:

You might be wondering why this matters, and how it affects you. The easiest way to answer those questions is to point out all of those big data breaches you constantly hear about. Hackers rarely waste time on individuals these days. They’ve got much bigger fish to fry. Large retailers, for example – or the databases where these third-party companies store the information they’ve gathered. That’s why all of us should take these steps to protect our private information.

Review and edit installed apps: To see what apps you’ve installed over the years, open Facebook in your browser, click the down arrow in the upper right corner and select “Settings.” Then click on the “Apps” header in the left column.

To see what information an app is accessing, click the pencil icon next to it to edit the settings. The first setting lets you set who can see that you use the app. It defaults to “Only Me,” so it isn’t a big deal. But below it is another story.

In the case of Skype, for example, it pulls your public profile information along with your list of friends, email address, birthday and hometown.

Remember that this information is being stored on a third-party server. Not every app developer is going to have Microsoft-level security, and hackers are good at turning tiny pieces of stolen information into big gains.

If you want to keep using the app, you can deselect certain items, such as your email address. That won’t remove the information from the app developer’s servers, but if you change your email address in the future, the developer won’t get the new one.

Remove apps you don’t use: If you don’t want to use the app anymore, you can click the “Remove app” link at the bottom of the page. Just remember that this won’t automatically remove your information from the app developer’s servers. You’ll need to contact the app developer directly for that. Facebook has a link for more information on this under the “Remove info collected by the app” section in the app’s settings.

Turn off apps completely: If you’ve deleted all the apps and you’re not keen on accidentally installing more, you can turn off the app platform completely. Just note you won’t be able to install apps or log in to third-party sites using Facebook until you turn this back on.

To turn off the app platform, go back to the App Settings page. Under “Apps, Websites and Plugins,” click the “Edit” button. Then click the “Disable Platform” link in the bottom left corner.

Facebook gives you the standard warning about what disabling the platform does. If you’re OK with it, click the “Disable Platform” button. Again, this won’t remove information that app developers might have collected about you already.

Stop logging into sites using Facebook: In the future, when you’re adding an app or logging into a website, try to avoid logging in with Facebook. But if you must use Facebook to log in, look for the “Log in Anonymously” or “Guest” option so it won’t share your information.

Stop friends’ apps from seeing your info: Apps can still get your information through your friends. By default, when your friends install apps, those apps have permission to grab whatever info your friends can see about you.

To put a stop to this, go back to the App Settings page. Then under “Apps Others Use” click the “Edit” button.

You’ll see everything that your friends’ apps can see about you. Go through and uncheck every option listed on the page, and then click “Save.” Now companies can’t track new information about you.

Apps aren’t the only worry you’ll run into on Facebook. Recently I told you how “like-farming” scammers can put your privacy at risk. Find out how like-farming works and how you can avoid it.