By now we are all familiar with the fact that multiple government agencies are harvesting our web browsing activity for their internal purposes. Corporations are also intent on grabbing as much valuable data as possible, which they use for sniper marketing and who knows what else. What we can be sure of is your data is valuable, and people other than yourself are profiting or gaining from it.
In this blog post we outline various ways to be anonymous on the Internet, not in the assumption that you have something to hide, but under the principle that no one should be allowed to indulge themselves in your activity just because they “can”. This post is for the intermediate/advanced Internet user. If you require assistance in securing your computer, contact us and we would be happy to help via remote session or in person (Palm Beach County only)
Use your web browser’s private/incognito mode
Nearly all of today’s popular web browsers sport a private/incognito mode where identifying details such as cookies are cleaned out when the browser is closed. Cookies track your browsing habits. Ever searched for a product online (particularly using Google, Ebay or Amazon) and you suddenly start seeing ads for the product on websites you visit, that weren’t there before? It’s not a coincidence. A cookie was attached to you that tells websites, who are participating in advertising programs, what you have searched for. Since websites get paid when you click on ads, it is profitable for them to know what your web activity is like, even on a completely separate, unrelated site. Companies tout this as a convenience, but many people would consider this a privacy breach. The links below direct you to the instructions for turning on private browsing for the appropriate browser.
- Google Chrome – Incognito Mode
- Internet Explorer – InPrivate Browsing
- Mozilla Firefox – Private Window
- Apple Safari – Private Browsing
Log/sign out of services when you are done
If you are logged into your mail provider on your computer then perform a search using that same provider (e.g. Google, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail/Bing) even in private mode within your browser, your search history is stored and disseminated to various agencies and companies, guaranteed. Advertising is the business these companies engage in, and you the user are the product! They sell your information and make money doing it (hey where is my cut?). It’s best to keep private mode private by not logging into anything while using it.
Use a VPN service
A VPN, or virtual private network, serves two important purposes. First it encrypts, or scrambles, your web browsing activity so your Internet Service Provider (AT&T, Comcast, Verizon FiOS, etc) can’t see what websites you are on. Therefore, they don’t have anything useful when your activity is forwarded to domestic surveillance agencies. This has an additional bonus when you are at a public hotspot, such as at a Starbucks. Your wireless data is also scrambled so you are protected from hackers attempting to eavesdrop on the same wifi.
Second, a VPN acts as a “middle man” between you and the website you are accessing. Websites think the VPN is the user, not you. The VPN forwards the data from the website to you, keeping you anonymous. However not all VPNs offer true protection. The best VPNs have a “no logging” or “no data retention” policy, meaning they throw away all data that about their users. That way if they recieve a subpeona for their users activity, the VPN provider simply shrugs and responds that there is no data to provide in the first place. After shopping around we have found Private Internet Access is the most affordable and best quality VPN (in terms of not slowing down your web browsing speed) while standing by a no retention policy.
(Advanced) Use TOR
The Tor Browser Bundle is for those who really, really don’t want to be tracked. It is a completely separate browser from the one you use on a daily basis, and has built in features to encrypt your browsing and avoid identity leaks. The Tor web browser is automatically in private mode. However, the above tip about logging out of services still applies. If you don’t want your browsing activity to be fingerprinted, don’t log in to your email, even in the Tor Browser. Any identity that is created in Tor (email address, forum/discussion board membership, Facebook account, etc) should continue to be accessed ONLY in Tor and nowhere outside of it or you are wasting your time and effort. Although it is free, Tor is quite slow to use for all of your web browsing. Some websites may also detect you are using Tor and block you because the anonymity it provides has been abused by immature users. A VPN is better suited for practical daily use.
Using all of the steps above, you can be on your way to regaining control of your privacy. The fact of the matter is, we don’t really know what agencies and corporations are doing with our data but we can be sure that it benefits them in some way or they wouldn’t spend such considerable effort and resources doing it. Once again we reiterate that you do not have to be doing anything “wrong”, privacy is your right and at the moment it is not being respected. Comment below if you have questions, or contact us if you would like us to help harden your system and restore your privacy!