Over half of Americans now worry cybercriminals are tracking them online

Woman holding a smartphone
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Americans are becoming increasingly concerned that they are being tracked online by cybercriminals looking to steal their data and even their identities.

According to a new survey from NordVPN, 73 percent of Americans worry about being tracked online while just over a third (35%) think they are being monitored at all times. However, experts at the cybersecurity firm say that users are making themselves trackable by accepting cookies, using public Wi-Fi and even by owning a smartwatch.

The majority of Americans believe they are mostly tracked by cybercriminals (60%) and social media giants such as Facebook (46%) but they're also worried that brands or advertising agencies (34%), information and advertising aggregators like Google (40%) and the government (47%) are following their activities online.

Although many Americans now believe cybercriminals are tracking them online, digital privacy expert at NordVPN, Daniel Markuson points out that other third parties want their data as well, saying:

“It’s not only cybercriminals who want your data. Social media networks, ISPs, third-party organizations, websites, and governmental institutions regularly collect users’ personal data and browsing habits for marketing or other purposes. They frequently use cookies to track your digital footprints.”

Poor security habits put Americans at risk online

In order to avoid being tracked online, you first need to know which devices and services are most commonly used for tracking.

When it came to the devices most likely to track their online activities and collect their data, American respondents believe smartphones are the best way to track them online (80%) followed by laptops (71%), desktop computers (71%) and tablets (62%). However, few people consider smart home appliances to be capable of spying and they were named the least likely culprits.

One of the easiest ways Americans allow themselves to be tracked online is by enabling cookies with NordVPN's study finding that 19 percent of those surveyed always enabling cookies and 23 percent doing so unless it looks suspicious. Surprisingly, only seven percent never accept cookies.

Using free or public Wi-Fi also comes at a cost as Markuson points out that these services are likely managed by a third-party provider that gets access to users' email addresses, social media profiles and phone numbers in exchange for getting them online. However, some hotspot providers are taking data collection a step further by tracking the whereabouts of users even after they've left an establishment offering free Wi-Fi.

Americans are putting their data at risk while connected to public Wi-Fi by logging into their personal emails (46%), using social media platforms with auto log-ins (42%), logging into their other accounts (37%) and buying from online retailers (24%).

To avoid being tracked online, you should always use a VPN if you absolutely must connect to public Wi-Fi though using cellular data is a much safer bet if you want to protect your privacy and keep your data out of the hands of third parties and even snooping cybercriminals.

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Anthony Spadafora

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.