A decade ago, people would surf the web without fear that they would be spied on. Things have changed.
In 2019, the online world is full of vast, powerful data collection systems that are designed to collect as much information as possible on you. These websites collect a huge amount of information, including your operating system, location, IP address, your interests, gender, and plenty of other stuff.
The reason they do this is simple enough. Your data is big business, and companies get rich from selling it. But it also involves a huge breach of your privacy rights. You should take your own privacy seriously because no-one else is going to.
These are the 13 creepy websites that you should be aware of:
Table of Content
It is probably not a surprise that Google is at the top of this list. That’s partly because Google is used by so many people for so many different things – from email to maps to searches. But it’s also because if you do anything on your computer or phone when you are signed in to your Google account (which is probably all the time), Google will keep track of it.
You can check what pieces of personal information Google has collected on you by going to the Google Personal Information page. There, you can see all of the information you have given to Google. They will have your phone number if you’ve set your phone as one of your account recovery options.
It’s possible to enter false information in these fields, of course, and keep yourself anonymous by using a pseudonym and a fake gender. But if you get blocked from your account, that could make it difficult to get back in.
Google collects such a huge amount of information on you for one reason: it helps to target ads your way. Google builds a profile on every user that includes ads they might be interested in. This profile is based on age, gender, location, and other factors.
You can see your profile by going to Manage Ad Settings. There, you will see a list of ads that Google thinks you will like. Here, you can remove some of your interests, or (better) turn off Ad Personalization completely.
Now we’re getting to the creepy stuff. Google tracks your every movement. If you have a Google account on your phone (and you probably do) it automatically generates maps of everywhere you have been. For years. Don’t believe me? Go to the Google Location History page, and you will.
You can turn off location tracking in Activity Controls > Location, but that’s not quite the end of the story. In the location history page, you will see a list of all the reservations you have made. How does Google know that?
It knows because it reads your emails. And there is no way of turning off that ‘feature’.
Browsing and Voice Activity
Google also tracks the websites you visit, how long you spend on them, and what you do when you are there. This is some of the creepiest information the tech giant collects because your activity tells them an awful lot about who you are.
You can see what information Google has on your internet activity by going to the Google My Activity page. There, you will see every site you’ve visited. You can delete individual sites by clicking on the ‘delete activity’ button, but this is a labor-intensive way of keeping your activities private.
If you ever use voice search, Google will also store recordings of your voice. Go to Voice & Audio Activity and you will see a list of recordings. You can even play them back, which is super creepy. Again, you can delete individual searches on this page, but there are much easier ways to protect your privacy (which I’ll come onto in a few minutes).
Device and Operating System
Alongside all the personal information above, Google also keeps track of which devices you are using (whether you are using Google or not), and the OS you are using. It will also store your IP address, which gives Google a lot of extra information about your location and ISP.
Facebook uses a slightly different approach to Google when it comes to collecting information on you. Instead of using hidden trackers, Facebook just asks you to voluntarily tell them everything about yourself.
This process starts when you sign up for an account when you are asked to share your name, gender, email address, phone number, and date of birth. It continues by the site prompting you to enter information on where you work, which schools you went to, where you live, and so on ad infinitum.
Facebook also uses some creepy tactics to get extra information. The site will track every ad that you click and every friend you have ever made (even after you delete them). It will also collect and store your IP and location.
That’s already a scary amount of information, but there is more. More than half the sites on the internet also include a Facebook script that extends their surveillance activities outside the Facebook site itself. If you are signed into Facebook, this will let the company know what you are doing, no matter where you are.
“Facebook has been collecting audio from some voice chats on Messenger and paying contractors to listen to and transcribe it..”
— Pan Tomuu (@PanTomuu) August 14, 2019
Facebook uses all this information to make money. They use the profile they have built-up on you to let advertisers target their ads. They even allow third-party apps direct access to the information they’ve collected on you via an API.
Protecting yourself from Facebook’s data collection is tricky. You can turn off access from third-party apps from within your profile on the site (Apps > Edit > API access). You can block them from tracking you by turning this off on your smartphone.
It’s also worth signing out of Facebook whenever you are not using the site, in order to defeat the tracking that the company uses on third-party sites.
YouTube is owned by Google, and it uses the same data collection strategies and techniques as those its parent company employs. That’s why YouTube will continually hassle you to sign in to your Google account when you try and watch videos on the site.
YouTube will import all of the information that Google holds on you, including your age, name, gender, and anything else you’ve volunteered when you signed up for a Google account. It will then correlate this with every video you watch on YouTube, and every ad you click on the site.
The only way to stop this is to limit the information that Google collects on you. Check out the steps above for ways to do that. You can also use YouTube after signing out of your Google account, which will (slightly) limit the information that it is able to collect.
YouTube also allows you to delete videos from your browsing history, in the same way as Google. Supposedly, deleting activity in this way means that it is gone forever, though we are not so sure about that.
4. True People Search
True People Search can be a useful tool. It allows anyone to access some pretty personal pieces of data on anyone else. It can be used to find someone you have long lost contact with or to search for the contact details of professional colleagues.
In order to be effective, though, True People Search collects a huge amount of information from all over the web. It correlates names with phone numbers, for instance, and so potentially allows anyone to find out your contact information.
It’s worth checking the site to see how much information they have collected on you. You might be surprised to find that they know your name, gender, and even your phone number. This information is collected from a variety of sources: they pay for data from Google and Facebook but also use more creepy tools.
Plenty of apps, for instance, will sell information to True People Search, so you should check usage agreements for the apps you download to keep your data from being made public.
Protecting yourself from True People Search is quite a hassle. If you find out that they have information on you, you can go to https://www.truepeoplesearch.com/removal, and they will delete it. However, the process can be quite slow, and you have no guarantee that this information is not still being stored somewhere.
5. Family tree Now
Like True People Search, Family Tree Now claims to be offering a useful service. It might, indeed, be useful for some people, but it also collects a creepy amount of information on everyone.
The site collects data from government records, including birth and death certificates. Interested users can then search this database, in order to research their family history and (potentially) contact long-lost relatives. That’s fine, but the site can also be used to search for people’s contact details in order to blackmail them.
The site has quickly become very popular, largely because it doesn’t require users to pay to get access to information. That’s also scary, though, because it potentially gives anyone access to information on you.
It’s worth checking how much information Family Tree Now already has on you. You can then protect yourself from the site by requesting an opt-out from FamilyTreeNow.com. These requests can take up to 48 hours to process.
Webkay is certainly a creepy website, but it is slightly different from those above. This site was built as a tool to help users see how much information they reveal just by using the web. Go to Webkay.robinlinus.com, and you’ll see a list of all the information that can be extracted from your machine.
This includes some pretty worrying details. The site will tell you your location, your IP, and details about your operating system. It also knows which browser you are using, and any plugins you have installed. It will also scan to see if you are logged into any social media sites, which will themselves track you around the web.
Using a tool like this is a must for anyone who takes their privacy seriously. You can use Webkay to track how good your cyber-defenses are, and to see the outcome of any new security software you install.
Whilst protecting yourself against Webkay is not necessary, the site does point to the importance of using privacy tools like VPNs, and of using search engines that don’t share your activity with outside parties.
7. Predictive World
Predictive World is another site that lets you check on how much information you are revealing to the world. It uses your Facebook profile to show you just how much data Facebook has collected on you.
When you go to the site, you’ll be prompted to give it access to your Facebook profile. Once you’ve done that, it will give you a list of all the information it can find. You might be slightly freaked out by that.
But it gets worse. What is so creepy about Predictive World is that the site will use this information to make predictions about what will happen to you – and the decisions you will make – in the future. These predictions can be eerily accurate, but it’s nice to have a tool that reveals the assumptions that Facebook also makes about you.
Protecting yourself from Predictive World is not strictly required since the site is more of a privacy tool than a surveillance system. Using the site, though, shows you just how important it is to lock down the information that Facebook has on you. You can do that via the steps above, but you should also make sure that you don’t stay signed into Facebook all the time.
Truthfinder might, I suppose, be a useful tool for some people. PIs trying to track someone down, or hackers looking for people to attack, will find it a useful resource. For the rest of us, this site is simply dangerous.
Truthfinder uses algorithms to search publicly-available records on almost everyone. Visit the site, and you’ll be able to enter a name, state, and any other information you have on someone. Try it with yourself, and you’ll see just how much info is out there for anyone willing to look for it.
Because Truthfinder uses data from public databases, it is difficult to limit the amount of information the site has on you. Documents like birth and death records, for instance, are collected by law, and you cannot opt-out of these governmental systems.
There is, though, a way to protect yourself from Truthfinder. The site will allow you to opt-out of their system, and this will hide your information from hackers and other criminals.
23andme is an example of a service that has become very popular in recent years: the company analyses your DNA in order to help you understand your ancestry, and assess your risk of genetic diseases.
A company having access to this information is really creepy, and 23andme seems aware of this. They make a big deal about respecting your privacy on their site. The problem is that these claims are undermined by the fact that the company has been caught sharing genetic data with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
This revelation has made people very skeptical about the other info that 23andme has collected. Even without sharing your genetic data, it is possible to use the site to find information about your ancestors, or potentially anyone else.
And whilst 23andme have said that they do not share this information with outside parties, the recent news stories suggest otherwise.
Protecting yourself from 23andme is easy enough, though. Just don’t use their site, and you should be safe.
In some ways, the data that Target collects on its online customers are not that different from other retailers. Like Amazon, Google, and Facebook, the Target site will collect and store information on your personal details and shopping habits.
What makes Target different, and also creepy, is the way that it uses this information. It is far more aggressive than other retailers when it comes to using this data to target ads to its customers.
One example of this is the recent scandal over Target’s ‘pregnancy scores’. It turns out that the site was using the information is collected in order to assign customers a ‘pregnancy score’: in other words, the probability of them being pregnant. Once this ‘score’ reached a certain threshold, the customer was bombarded with products for new mothers.
Using these kinds of aggressive sales techniques at such a sensitive time was bound to lead to controversy, and it did. In one case, a teenage girl was targeted with pregnancy ads. Her dad complained, only to find out that she was indeed pregnant, and had been hiding this from her family.
If the idea of Target knowing more about your family than you do creeps you out, you’re not alone.
Protecting yourself from sites like Target can be difficult because you need to set up an account in order to use the site. You should, though, be careful about how much information you upload onto this type of site. You should also never, ever link these accounts to your Facebook or Google profile because this will give the retailer access to all the information that these tech giants have collected on you.
DataSelfie is similar to some of the tools I’ve mentioned above: it aims to give you a better understanding of just how much data you are revealing without realizing it.
DataSelfie has since been shut down, but it was groundbreaking when it came to raising awareness about data privacy and security. It operated as a plugin for Chrome rather than a website but could extract a huge amount of data from the most basic facts about you.
The plugin essentially copied Facebook, using the same kind of tracking technology to follow you around the web and show you what it revealed about your habits. Though the plugin is no longer available, the video below gives you an idea of what the system could do.
Clickclickclick is a creepy, amazing, funny, and important site. Like some of the data privacy tools above, this site aims to bring home to users just how much data they are sending to site owners every time they use the internet.
Clickclickclick does this in a way that is really creepy, and really effective. All of your activity – and anything else the site might be able to find out – will scroll down the screen. A voice will tell you what you are doing, and if you’ve been lazy about clearing out your cookies the same voice will give you worryingly personal details.
Clickclickclick is the most effective tool we’ve seen at raising awareness of data privacy. If you’re reading this article, you are likely already aware of how important it is to keep your data private, and you’ve probably using a VPN to hide your activity from those who want to steal it.
Clickclickclick is, though, a useful tool if you want to convince your friends or your family to start taking this stuff seriously. It can really freak people out the first time they use the site, and they will never be so casual about their browsing again.
HaveIBeenPwned is another useful tool for protecting your privacy. The site allows you to check how much information is out there on your habits and history and will alert you know if someone has stolen your identity.
This site will also tell you if your personal information has been made public via a data leak, and so you should check it frequently to see if you’ve been the victim of a hack. With new breaches occurring almost every day, this site is an eye-opening look at just how fragile our current data security systems are.
How to Protect Yourself
So there we have it: 13 sites that hold a creepy amount of data on you. After going through the list, you might be worried that there is more information out there about you than you would like. You are right to worry: though these sites are the worst offenders, there are also plenty of other sites I could have mentioned.
It’s also worth noting that the sites above are all legal. I haven’t even discussed the fake sites that are out there, and that will track you for the purposes of hacking rather than just selling your data through legitimate channels.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
Well, there are a couple of key steps that you can take:
- First of all, follow the steps I’ve outlined above to limit the amount of information that sites (and especially Google) collect on you. This is as simple as going into the settings on your account, and turning off tracking or data collection.
- Second, make sure that you are signed out of Google and Facebook when you are not using them. This will stop the tracking software they use from following you to other sites and reporting back on your activity. It might sound like it would be annoying to have to enter your password again every time you want to use these sites, but this minor inconvenience is worth it.
- Thirdly, you should use privacy tools. Firefox, for instance, comes packaged with tracking protection that can stop some of the sites above.
- Most importantly, use a VPN. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) will hide your data and activity from many commonly used trackers. This will mean that you can stay anonymous online, which will frustrate attempts to follow you around. It will also mean that, even if a hacker manages to intercept your data, they won’t be able to read it.
Your Privacy, Your Responsibility
As people become more and more aware of just how much data is being collected on them, tech companies have started to stress that they take data privacy seriously. However, it’s hard to credit these statements, because ultimately these companies make most of their money out of selling user data to advertisers.
In reality, you should never put your trust in tech companies to keep your data safe. They will hide their intention to sell this data deep in the small print, and even if they don’t intend to release this information it could be leaked via a data breach.
This means that the best advice is to take your own privacy seriously because no-one else is going to. By making sure you limit the amount of data that is collected on you, you can maintain your right to privacy.