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Watch Who's Watching You Online
When it comes to your internet security, do you know what's public and what's private?
If you did any online holiday shopping or just use Facebook, Twitter, or any social media, it's likely that every website you clicked on and every item you bought was tracked and then potentially sold to research companies for targeted advertising.
It's done through cookies, which are little bits of data that stay on your computer and allow websites to track you as you move from site to site.
The proof that this is happening is on your computer screen. If you log onto a website (HuffingtonPost.com, for example) and you have the option to "like" or "tweet" a story, you've been tracked. That website now knows who you are based on the information you provide on your Facebook and Twitter page.
Tracking your data online is big business for many companies. The more they know, the more of a target you can become.
"They're going to find a way to know as much about you as they can, because it's in their financial best interest," explained Casey Weaver, a financial security expert who owns CMW Consulting.
Weaver says companies track your personal data, where you click and what you buy, all in an effort to make money on you through advertisements.
"It's eye opening for most people," said Weaver. "They don't realize how traceable they are."
But while companies are tracking and watching your every click online, you can now turn the tables and watch them watching you.
"It's really sensational information," said Weaver.
A new experimental download, called Collusion, is free and lets you see exactly what websites are tracking you and passing on your information.
"HuffingtonPost.com is connected to ValuedOpinions.co.uk. They're also connecting with ScoreCardsResearch.com," Weaver showed using the Collusion plug-in.
Collusion lets you see who's tracking your information, but if you want to stop your information from being tracked in the first place, you can use another free download, called Disconnect.
"Disconnect will block the cookies for certain sites like Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus," demonstrated Weaver.
With Disconnect on your computer, you become essentially invisible or anonymous online. Without Disconnect, you can "like" videos or post comments as a Facebook. With the cookies blocked through Disconnect that no longer becomes an option.
"It is a catch 22 though, because a lot of really good sites use advertising for their revenue," said Weaver about the downside of blocking cookies on your computer. "So that's the double edge of that sword, if you try to block everything from the sites you enjoy, you might be hurting them financially."
Security experts also recommend that you don't use answers to security questions that can be found on your Facebook page. For example, if the answer to your security question "what high school did you attend" could be found on your Facebook page, it gives hackers easier access to stealing your identity. Security experts suggest making up an answer to these questions or using a secondary password.
By Karen Kiley