How to Find Out What People Are Reading on the Internet – Without Being a Spy
You don't have to log into someone else's computer to find out what they're checking out on the internet. As long as you're sharing the same Wi-Fi you can find out almost anything you want to know. This has a pretty high accuracy rate, but like anything in life…proceed with caution. If you see something that concerns you, ask the person you're concerned about. Face to face communication is still the best way to find out what those you care about are up to.
Now, on to the spying thing…
From your own computer/tablet/smartphone that has Wi-Fi enabled, clear out your own cookies and browsing history. Reset any advertising identifier (on an iPhone or iPad it's in settings, privacy, advertising).
It is extra helpful and gives you a cleaner, more private internet experience for yourself if you have something like CCleaner (formerly Crap Cleaner) installed. There are plenty of programs that do the same thing.
Once you've cleaned your own footprints off your browser, set your cookies to “Enable from Current Website Only” (again, apple products call it that…we're Apple fan girls) or whatever your operating system calls it (it'll be similar).
Then start browsing the internet. Big sites, small sites, sites that don't require log-ins, sites like Facebook, etc.
Take a look at the ads you're being served. Ads for Greece? Who in your house is interested in that country or planning a visit there? Offers for passport help? Someone's thinking about going somewhere…far away. Need help with that suspicious itch? How about rehab for that assumed opioid addiction? Someone gets their prescription refill confirmations via their free email provider (you know the big ones).
It gets even more interesting when you do it from a Starbucks or other establishment offering free Wi-Fi. Got your eye on that cute guy in the next booth? Hmmm…what are all those “Cheap Divorce Lawyer for Cheaters” ads that are showing up? Might want to leave that fish in the pond.
Moral of the story…you don't have privacy online. If you have a free email provider, if you use Facebook or any other social media site, if you browse the internet…you do not have privacy. If you want some semblance of privacy, forget about signing up for any email list at all (no matter how much they hate spam as much as you do), don't enter contests, don't shop online. Even then, the hackers of the world (and they are absolutely NOT all the Russians) can still find you.
Live with what you can be comfortable with and get a good browser cleaner installed, but don't let it make you crazy. Plenty of little old ladies who don't know how to get online have had their identity stolen, while super-social butterflies can't be found no matter how much you search for them.
In the meantime, enjoy the internet. For the average everyday user, it's a wonderful thing for the small price of entry.
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The image featured at the top of this post is ©Colin Anderson / Getty.