These days it is almost impossible to remain completely private online. That is why virtual private networks (VPNs) are becoming popular as people try to find ways to avoid digital spying, invasive advertising, and data collection. But can you be tracked when using a VPN? This is a popular question, and we will answer it in this article.
What Is Tracking?
Tracking is the way websites monitor our online behavior when we visit them to improve the browsing experience. This is not illegal, and apparently, over 79% of websites use trackers to collect our data.
Besides improving the user experience, websites also track us for other reasons. For example, some websites sell the data they collect to advertisers. Also, businesses may rely on website analytics to measure performance and inform their content strategies.
Can You Be Tracked when Using a VPN?
No, it won’t be easy to track your online activities as long as you are using a reliable VPN. This is because it encrypts your data, conceals your IP address, and routes your traffic through intermediary servers. The ISP will only see the VPN server’s IP and gibberish, which helps to maintain your anonymity.
Remember that your internet service provider (ISP) will know that you are using a VPN. However, it won’t see your private information, such as your browsing history, the websites you visit, or the files you download.
The best option is a premium VPN, where you must purchase a subscription. On the other hand, a free VPN may be enticing because you don’t have to pay anything, but you shouldn’t fall it. Most free VPNs don’t employ necessary security measures, and you will still be tracked.
How Are You Tracked
Below are some of the common ways we are tracked on the internet.
A VPN only safeguards your online data but cannot protect your device from malware infection. However, some VPNs offer a firewall that blocks connections to malicious domains. Unfortunately, this is not enough to stop malware because you can accidentally click a phishing link or download a malicious file.
A hacker can use a malware to monitor everything you do. This includes browsing history, files you save on your hard drive, passwords you type, and more.
One of the best measures to prevent malware infection is robust anti-malware software. Also, you can use password managers, enable two-factor authentication, and install a script blocker.
Cookies are digital data that websites insert on your device when you visit them. Usually, they are harmless and help in improving your experience on the site. However, some cookies are persistent and bad for your privacy because they allow advertisers to track your online behavior and preference.
Unfortunately, a VPN cannot track cookies due to how they work. After all, it isn’t designed to intercept the files you download.
The solution is to delete cookies whenever you use a VPN. Also, use the incognito/private mode in your browser, as it will automatically clear cookies when you close the tab.
Websites use this accurate tracking method to monitor your activities by linking your behavior patterns. It works by assigning you a unique identifier every time you visit a site. The fingerprint contains vast data from screen resolution, time zone, OS version, web browser, system fonts, etc.
Unfortunately, a VPN won’t stop websites from tracking your activities with digital fingerprinting. Also, because of how it works, you cannot stay completely safe from fingerprinting unless you want to go off-grid.
DNS and IP address leaks
Some VPNs route your DNS requests and IP address outside the encrypted tunnel, which can compromise your privacy. That is why choosing a VPN provider with DNS/IPv6 leak protection is advisable.
Anyone can track you if you post your private information on social media like phone number, email address, etc. Remember that a VPN won’t protect data if you voluntarily make it public.