Editor's note: This article is part of the Deseret News' annual Ten Today series, which explores the relevance of the Ten Commandments in modern life.
SALT LAKE CITY — It's almost impossible to completely prevent companies from tracking your behavior as you surf the web, but there are several things you can do to keep your personal information private.
And while you may be among the one-third of Americans who appreciate targeted advertisements, you're likely among the two-thirds who don't. If that's the case, you can limit marketers' ability to profile and target you with intrusive ads.
Here are five places to start taking control of what companies know about your online activity. Keep in mind that it's a good idea to use more than one tool to address privacy concerns.
1. Use anti-tracking and ad-blocking tools on all your devices.
Desktop and mobile anti-tracking extensions like Privacy Badger, Adblock Plus, Disconnect and Ghostery will keep trackers from collecting information from your browser as you go from website to website. They work by blocking cookies, small files stored in your browser that help websites you visit often identify you, and fingerprinting, a method of tracking that involves checking your browser configurations and settings.
These downloadable extensions are like add-ons for your browser that give it additional functions. They can block ads from loading on the websites you visit, identify third-party trackers and ensure that third parties you’ve chosen to block can't access your personally identifiable information.
2. Use a search engine that doesn't track you.
"When companies such as Google build up detailed profiles of users, that data is used to sell targeted ads to the highest bidder. However, this type of tracking is actually not needed for Google to make money," said Daniel Davis, communications manager for DuckDuckGo, which also offers an anti-tracking browser extension.
"We're an example of this, having been profitable since 2014 through the use of contextual ads. For example, if you search for a car on DuckDuckGo, we may show you a car-related ad. Your previous search history and web activity is of no interest (and unknown) to us."
3. Read privacy agreements and adjust your settings.
The only way to know for sure what information you're giving up when you download an app, install software or sign up for an online account is to read the terms of service agreement. Some applications will track your location using GPS or download all of the contacts and photos in your phone. MyPermissions can help you keep track of what companies have access to your information.
You can also adjust your security and ad preferences to be more private. The ad preferences page on Facebook lets you limit the ways Facebook targets you for advertising. Google offers a similar account page where you can opt-out of seeing personalized ads and even delete all the searches you’ve ever made through Google.
In addition, most browsers have Do Not Track settings that will automatically send requests to sites asking them to not track your behavior. However, there’s no legal obligation for websites to honor the request, and many will just ignore it. Some of the networks that respect a Do Not Track request include Pinterest and Medium.
4. Use a virtual private network (VPN).
Using a virtual private network (VPN) when you access the internet through a public network, like the Wi-Fi at a coffee shop, will help keep the information you share private and anonymous.
A VPN encrypts your data and redirects your network connection through another virtual network at a different location. By doing so, VPNs prevent websites from collecting your IP address or actual geographic location, which are often used when building your digital fingerprint.
5. Beware of phishing scams.1 comment on this story
Don’t open emails that seem suspicious or click on links when the sender of the email is not someone you know and trust. Take time to look through all your social media accounts to remove and block contacts that send you spam messages.
Report phishing and questionable activity when you see it using the Facebook Report button, firstname.lastname@example.org if you are an Apple user, or the security and privacy page for Microsoft, for example.
Finally, don’t engage with people whom you have no connections or don’t know in real life.