Remember the times back when nobody thought about their privacy while browsing? The good old days before all those cookies, anonymous data collection is done by Google, Facebook, and others? The days when an adblocker combined with almost any anti-virus software guaranteed you won’t have to worry about your personal data being seen by the large software companies? Well, those days passed and in today’s world of big data, smartphones being always online, numerous social networks, not to talk about all the ways you are being tracked online constantly (like what Google does in order to have the best possible data for advertising, or Facebook and their cookies following every site you visit), you are being followed constantly.
Your privacy is endangered everywhere; companies take your data for advertising (Facebook’s best at that), in order to better understand your habits (like what Google does, making a plot of your every move, visible on Google Maps), or just to see which sites you visit and to react if a site is on their black list (ISPs and emails you get when visiting a torrent site, for instance). This is especially worrying after Snowden showed the world the governments have the means of following your every move, reading you every message, filtering your complete online history in order to find every potential proof of you doing something illegal.
So, are we defenseless in this world of 1984, or can we do something about our online privacy? The good news is that there are many ways of protecting our privacy while online, some of them are easy to discover and use, while others are not so prominent, requiring a bit of research before finding them. Stay with us and learn how to protect your privacy while online, and how to defend yourself against numerous data leeches.
Protecting Your Online Privacy – The Basic Ways
The first thing you should do is adopting some rules regarding online behavior. These are very important, and should be followed by everyone.
First, never open emails looking suspicious. If an email you’ve received is coming from an unknown address, it is best to not open it at all. IF you choose to open it, do not click on links inside it, especially if they relate to your email address, your social media accounts, or financial details. Phishing scams and malware are getting more and more frequent every day, so it’s best to be vigilant at all times. Thinking that that sort of thing can’t happen to you is wrong, better to be safe than sorry.
Next, update privacy settings regarding your social network and Google accounts. If using Facebook, go to your Facebook privacy settings, and choose “friends only,” meaning that your information can be seen only by your friends and no one else. Next, go to “Advanced Privacy Controls” and remove your tags from photos, and any mention of you visible on other people’s timeline.
If wanting to be safe about someone else accessing your profile, set up “two-factor authentication,” an option that can be found under “Security settings>Login Approvals” Turning it on will make Facebook ask for a confirmation from your phone every time your account is accessed from a new device or browser.
Of course, Facebook can still see your complete profile, but the only way of defending against that is turning off Facebook account completely.
Next, while on Google’s page, click on your profile image and then on “privacy.” Check out which data is being collected by Google, and what you can do to disallow Google from collecting it.
Next, go to your Google profile, and under “Personal Info & Privacy” find “Manage your Google activity” and click on it. There you’ll find two options, “Activity Controls” and “Review Activity.”
In Activity Controls, you can disable Google to track your web and app activity, your location history, voice & audio activity, YouTube search and watch history. You won’t believe the amount of stuff Google collects, but fortunately, you can disable most of the data being collected. The funny thing is that Chrome will non-stop noticing you about the page being unresponsive; just ignore the notification and always click on “wait,” don’t close the page until you’ve set up everything.
After you managed what Google is allowed to collect about you go back, and select “My Activity.” There you can see everything regarding your search history. There is an option of deleting all of the data, just click on “delete activity by,” which is on the left side of the menu, and there you can choose to delete all data collected by Google or just data collected during a certain time period. The choice is yours, but we suggest deleting all activity data.
After you’ve set up Facebook and Google privacy settings, it’s time to install ad blocker software. Two best solutions are AdBlock Plus and uBlock Origin (we advise you to install uBlock since it has much more options allowing you to precisely pick elements that will be blocked).
Ok, those were the basics. Let’s see the other, more complex ways of keeping your online privacy intact.
Online Privacy – Advanced Tactics
Servicing your privacy options is just a start. After you finish tweaking data collecting options regarding Google and Facebook, it’s time to equip some serious hardware (or software, to be accurate).
The first thing you should do is setting up VPN (Virtual Private Network). VPN works by routing your IP address, creating a virtual address with secure P2P connection, making you safe while online. It not only keeps you anonymous but can also be used for accessing content not available on your country by changing your IP address, making it look like your accessing the data from another country.
VPN can be quite handy in maintaining you secure while online since it’s almost impossible to locate your real address. VPN is also very useful for people living in countries having limited access to some sites (like Spotify, or Netflix), or with governments blocking access to certain sites.
One solid VPN choice is OpenVPN, which is completely free. Another good choice is TorGuard, a paid service offering more options, also available for smartphones and tablets.
Using VPN will make you invisible for many companies, but still vulnerable to phishing scams; so make sure to not click on suspicious links and emails.
The next level of internet anonymity is Tor Browser (the Onion Router). Tor uses a huge network of computers in order to route your traffic through numerous encrypted layers (the name come from numerous onion layers). Tor is based on Firefox and will make you invisible while browsing, a perfect tool for all persons wanting to stay incognito while online. It has its weaknesses, so we advise you to read Tor warnings in order to modify your behavior while online, keeping you safer.
Another solid choice could be the new Opera VPN browser. Easy to set up, with built-in VPN client and ad blocking software. If you want to browse incognito but don’t want to go through complex installation process the new Opera VPN browser could be a perfect choice for you. On top of ad blocker and VPN client, the new Opera offers a new visual bookmarks feature as well as battery saver feature – perfect for laptop users – but that’s not all. You can enjoy your own personalized news feed filled with stories brought just for you, accessible from the browser’s start page.
It’s relatively easy to stay secure while browsing, but if you plan on running suspicious files or programs, it’s best to run them inside a virtual machine. All you have to do is to load up any Linux distro inside a VirtualBox ( a program letting you construct a virtual machine), configure it, and cut it internet access. Then, when you want to open a suspicious file or a program, just start you Virtual Machine and if something goes wrong, there will be no damage to your OS, making your data safe and your computer unharmed.
Some Bonus Tips
While all those tips can make you ninja while online, there are some simple things you can do in order to keep your online privacy intact.
First, skip Google and use a different search engine. Google collects your data even after you set it up to not save your browsing data. Some quality alternatives are Bing (it’s quite good, even if coming from Microsoft); DuckDuckGo, a search engine that does not track you, meaning that search data is not saved and locations visited are not stored on some server farm in the middle of nowhere.
Switch location data off. Many sites will track your location, in order to send you precisely targeted ads, to give you a better customer service, to make your experience while visiting them better, or just to build a data map of their visitors. Anyway, go to your browser settings and turn location data off, or just put that websites must ask you for your location data.
Just go to your browser settings and delete cookies regularly. If you have lots of passwords saved on various sites, download LastPass password manager (completely free) in order to have all of your passwords in one place, making cookies pretty much obsolete.
Thank you for reading this guide. We tried to gather as much advice as we could, helping you stay invisible while online. It might look like a regular person doesn’t have strong reasons to be hidden while online, but if you want to be invisible, you should do it. A right to privacy should be one of the basic human rights and we should use it, no matter what big tech companies has to say about it.