Can Advertisers Track You on a VPN
By Nick Anderson 6 minutes
Digital advertising relies on targeting users based on their interests. Advertisers gather as much data as possible to learn about their target audience. Over the years, certain technologies have allowed advertisers to track users not just on the websites they visit but across multiple websites. The question presents itself, can advertisers track you on a VPN? Let’s go through how advertisers track users on the web and how a VPN is used for privacy.
How Advertisers Track Users
Online advertisement draws the interest of users by showing them things that are relevant to them. Ever searched for something on Google or a website, then started seeing ads for the item on Facebook? It’s called cross-site scripting, and it’s done by a computer technology called cookies.
A cookie is a small file that contains important data. It improves the browsing experience by making certain aspects persistent. For example, if you closed the window while you had some items in the cart on an e-commerce website, cookies make it possible to retain that information when you revisit the website so that you don’t have to repeat the process. Cookies also allow the website to serve you tailored information based on your interests.
Another way advertisers track users is through browser fingerprinting. Websites can gather information such as the browser version, operating system, time zone, display resolution, add-ons you have installed, and many others details. It creates a fingerprint that is recognizable by advertisers are you move across the web.
There is a multitude of ways that advertising companies gather data in an effort to catch your attention, including Bluetooth beacons in retail stores that can be picked up by your phone and allow advertisers to know in what aisle you have been.
To simply things, here’s how you can be tracked online.
Tracking Without Consent is a Breach of Privacy
The past few years have accentuated focus on online privacy in the light of privacy scandals from the big tech companies. People are coming to know about online tracking and how advertisers such as Google use their reach to track users across the web.
Can Advertisers Track You on VPN?
VPN helps you connect to the remote server that acts as a proxy for your internet requests. It is a tool that improves your privacy on the web and adds a layer of security that is especially useful for unsecured, public Wi-Fi networks.
But does it help you protect against online tracking?
The short answer is: to some extent. Online tracking is not based on an IP address that is unique to every network on the internet. Cookie technology and browser fingerprinting do not rely on IP address but information that is saved on your device or retrieved from your device.
If you visit a website with Google’s tracking cookie and you visit another website with Google’s tracking cookie, the advertiser knows where you have been after you left the first website. Other times, malware on your system could be sending information about your browsing history back to its origin.
In that respect, VPN does not help you gain anonymity against advertisers. However, it protects you against Internet Service Providers (ISP) who could be selling browsing history to advertisers, which isn’t anything unheard of as per previously reported cases. Major ISPs deny selling user data despite multiple reports revealing how location data is sold to data brokers.
By connecting to a VPN, your DNS queries are encrypted, which hides the destinations you trying to visit. The ISP can only see you are connected to a location.
Free VPN vs. Paid VPN
One of the ways advertisers gather data on you is through VPN services that sell data for profit. Free VPN and proxy services are a dime a dozen, offering instant access to blocked content without any registering or fees. It comes with the downside of user privacy.
Running a VPN service has costs attached to it. If the VPN service is not charging you for the service, it’s making money from something else. Free VPN services sell browsing history to advertisers to make up for the loss incurred by providing users the service for free. So, in this regard, a VPN service does help prevent tracking but only if you use a trusted and reliable VPN service.
FastestVPN’s strict zero-logs policy and premium model give you confidence that we do not have to sell your data. As a VPN provider based in the Cayman Islands, FastestVPN is not legally obliged to record user data.
How to Block Advertisers from Tracking You
The mobile-first approach of publishers and advertisers makes smartphone users the primary audience for everything. Whether it’s UX design or utilizing smartphone technology to track users, smartphone users need to learn how to block advertisers from tracking them.
Both Apple and Google allow iOS and Android developers the tools to track user behavior across apps. But as of late, Apple and Google have put the choice in the users’ hands if they don’t want to be tracked. Apple introduced tracking permissions with iOS 14.5, which prompts users to decide if they would like the app to track them or deny them.
- Block third-party cookies/trackers in Safari, Chrome, Edge, Firefox.
- Download and install an adblocker to disable ads.
- Turn off Bluetooth on your phone when not in use.
- Don’t use free VPN and proxy services.
- Use encrypted communication through VPN or DNS Over HTTPS (DoH).
- Update to iOS 14.5 and Android 12 to block app tracking.
The argument against online tracking is not about the technology but the way it’s used, which is without the user’s consent. The decision to use the user’s data must come from the user itself. And that is where tools like a VPN help prevent monitoring of internet traffic for the purpose of advertisement or surveillance.