Can advertisers track users online if they are using a VPN? | Q&A with Patrick Marshall

Question: I have a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provided by Norton. However, if, for example, I am interested in a pizza oven and search the internet, I later get emails and pop-up ads showing pizza ovens. I thought a VPN allowed you to do anonymous searches on the internet?


A: In fact, there are a number of ways that advertisers can bypass your VPN.

The first and most likely is tracking cookies. If you haven’t blocked tracking cookies in your browser, they will place small pieces of code on your computer that can track the sites you visit. This code is, in short, attached to your computer and not to your IP address.

A similar thing happens if you browse the internet while logged in to your Google account. So if you log in to verify your Gmail account and don’t log out, Google can track where you are going.

Finally, you may have inadvertently downloaded malware that tracks your searches and website visits.

And for users who use a free VPN, be aware that companies that offer this service are likely selling your data to third parties, including your IP address and the IP addresses of websites you visit.

Related technical questions and answers

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Question: I am looking for a new portable external hard drive. My previous drive did not allow me to make a full copy of my computer – only documents, images, emails, etc. Is this how these drives work or do you have to purchase additional software that will work in tandem with the external drive?

Sharman williams

A: Starting with Windows 8, Microsoft included a built-in drive mirroring feature. To access it, hold down the Windows key on your keyboard and press the X key, then select “Disk Management” from the list that appears. Right click on an empty drive and select “Add Mirror”. Be aware, however, that the drive you are going to mirror to must be at least as large as the one that is being mirrored.

Question: Do I have to reinstall my anti-virus, Google Chrome, and games if I download Windows 11? I am getting Windows 11 for free and am also wondering how long it will take to download

Judy Björlo

A: If you are upgrading to Windows 11, you won’t have to reinstall your apps or data. According to Microsoft, most software and accessories that work with Windows 10 should work with Windows 11.

However, I recommend that you back up all the data that interests you – photos, documents, etc. – just in case something goes wrong during the upgrade.

How long does the upgrade take? It depends on your computer and even more on your internet speed. It took me about an hour to make the trip on my Microsoft Surface Book 3.

Question: We are currently using Windows 8.1 and I think it’s time to upgrade to Windows 10. Why has it taken so long, you ask? I am using an older version (2003) of Publisher, Word and Excel. I love this version of Publisher. It is so easy to navigate and suits all of my needs. Can I still run these features with Windows 10?

Michelle burnham

A: The most recent version of Microsoft Office, which includes these products, supported in Windows 10 is Office 2013.

Heard on Vine that Word 2003 works on Windows 10 but not Excel 2003. Since Windows 8.1 is no longer fully supported, I urge you to upgrade to Windows 10 and then upgrade update products that don’t work. I think you will find that Windows and these Office products have improved a lot over the past 18 years.

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