Maintaining your privacy while connected to the internet can feel like an impossible task. It is indeed possible, and by following a few steps and understanding some basic concepts, you can maximize your online privacy.
Several pieces of information are valuable to those looking to grasp internet anonymity. Here are a few things to have in mind while you browse the internet:
- Your data is being collected. As you move from site to site, app to app, or program to program, the information about your behaviors is being sent around the web. You will learn what this means and how to prevent it in this article.
- Understand the value of your information. Not every hacker chooses a target group, but many seek specifically valuable information. Some people are sought after for their status, while others may have security clearances or high incomes.
- Tailor your plan. There is an array of tools available to protect data and personal privacy. It is important to choose the right tools for your needs. Your internet behavior, the value of your information, and privacy preferences will all come into play while deciding.
- Learn and practice internet safety. If you are not taking steps to protect yourself from invasions of privacy, then no tools or programs will be able to help. It is vital that you practice the basics of internet safety, like strong passwords and avoiding scams.
Staying Private: Tips and Tricks
It is possible to maintain your privacy while venturing around the internet. Keep these tips and tricks in mind to maximize your safety.
Ad and Tracker Blockers
Pop up ads are irritating, to say the least. They can also be invading your privacy without your knowledge. Ads play a major role in the tracking of your typical online behaviors.
An ad blocker can prevent this tracking from occurring. However, they cannot prevent all the tracking methods out there.
Adding a tracker blocking extension for Firefox or Chrome can help to keep your browsing anonymous.
Emails often contain the most private, sensitive information we send and receive. Imagine your emails becoming publicly accessible. Ironically, many people employ email services that offer minimal encryption.
An encrypted email service virtually guarantees the safety of your emails, contact, and old messages.
Consider using multiple email addresses. A separate account for general emails, business correspondence, and online shopping can help break up the data being collected about you.
Even encrypted email services can be vulnerable to various tracking tools but using different addresses for each purpose limits the overall picture of you and your online behaviors.
Taking password creation seriously is one of the most vital pieces of keeping your privacy intact. The many data breaches occurring at companies around the globe should be encouragement enough to use complex passwords.
Hackers use tools that allow them to rapidly test commonly used keycodes for accounts. If your account is leaked in a data breach, a hacker could gain access, and your privacy would be gone.
In addition to complexity, you should create unique passwords for each account. There are many password management tools to make this possible without having to remember a million keys.
Password managers allow you to remember one password while encrypting all your unique access codes. Signing in to your accounts is as easy as using the one password for the management program.
Public WiFi Is Unsafe
It sounds harsh, but WiFi in public places leaves your device at risk to major breaches of privacy. In most cases, the Wi-Fi is unsecured and readily available for hackers to infiltrate.
If you find yourself desperate to use public WiFi for whatever reason, you must use a VPN if you expect any sense of privacy and security. Using a VPN encrypts the data leaving your device on the way to the VPN servers, protecting it from interception and data theft.
Keep Privacy at the Forefront
Google is inarguably the most popular search engine. If you value privacy regarding your search habits, you might want to find another option. Google and other major search engines notoriously collect and aggregate massive amounts of user data.
A VPN could help to prevent this behavior, but another option is to use a private search engine. These engines guarantee they will not collect data about your searches. Some options:
Another way to maintain privacy while browsing the web is through private browsers. These eliminate the storage of history and guarantee private internet access.
Investigate the privacy practices of everything you use to access the internet. Before downloading or installing extensions and added plugins, ensure they take privacy as seriously as you do.
Consider Encrypted Messaging
Multiple messaging apps utilize end-to-end encryption to keep transmissions private. The most popular, that you and your friends likely use, do not feature this secure connection.
If you genuinely value privacy and the prevention of your information being taken, you might want to take steps to transition to messaging with encryption.
Private Browsing Modes Only Go So Far
Private browsing modes (called incognito on some browsers) are beneficial but do have their limits.
Some of the benefits include eliminating the recording of browser activities on the device. Thus, search histories are non-existent. It also prevents cookies from being created or gets rid of them when you close the browser.
To clarify some common misconceptions about what private browsing can do, here are some things it does not provide:
- Protection from malware attacks
- Protection from ISP, government, or hackers seeing your browsing activity
- Secure transmission (encryption) of data on unsecured Wi-Fi
Many people fall victim to the belief that incognito modes offer any form of privacy protection. Essentially, it does prevent some tracking via cookies and eliminates browsing history.
Beware of the Cookie Monster
Cookies represent the main method advertisers use to track and collect data about your browsing habits. Browser extensions can help by blocking cookies altogether, but this can cause some inconveniences.
Cookies are beneficial in some ways, as they allow you to quickly log in to sites you have visited before. However, the infringement on your privacy likely outweighs the benefits.
Use HTTPS for Extra Security
Privacy and security are enhanced when browsing URLs that have the ‘S’ at the end of the ‘HTTP.’ These connections are encrypted using SSL/TLS, which encrypts data leaving your browser on the way to the site’s server.
This type of encryption is very beneficial when shopping online, as your financial information is put at risk while making purchases. Some browser extensions will look for HTTPS sites while searching rather than giving HTTP sites preference.
Take the Time to Update
A common mistake that leaves people vulnerable is ignoring the constant reminders to update operating systems, programs, and apps. The updates are vital to the security of your devices.
Most updates contain patches that help fix known security issues found in previous versions. Hackers have access to the same information and begin devising ways to take advantage of the vulnerabilities immediately.
Those who ignore these updates for the sake of convenience choose to remain susceptible to cyber-attacks and a loss of privacy.
Consider Requests for Access to Data
Upon installation of apps or operating systems, you will inevitably be asked for access to various types of personal data. Some are more obviously pertinent than others like an email address.
If an app is requesting too much data or information that seems extraneous, consider whether the tradeoff for your privacy is worth it. There may be other options that demand fewer pieces of information.
Some apps will also request access to your device or other apps. Again, consider whether the requests seem reasonable and if they put your privacy at risk.
Keep Other Devices in Mind
Looking around the average home will reveal a plethora of devices connected to the internet. These allow for conveniences like voice-controlled lights or easy access to a music library but are notoriously vulnerable to security threats.
Hackers gaining access to these devices could be devastating to your privacy, allowing them to make purchases with your accounts and even physically spy on you.
Always Use a VPN
Many of the prior suggestions mentioned the use of a virtual private network (VPN). These tools allow you to remain secure and private while connected to the internet. A VPN can make it virtually impossible for any outside entity to view your internet traffic.
There are many free options available but consider investing in a paid option. Free VPNs are less secure, often unreliable, and consistently underperform when compared to paid versions.
Some free VPN providers have and will collect data for sale or to provide to the government if requested. A VPN is one of the most important tools for ensuring privacy, but only if you use a high-quality option.
Keep Your Social Media Private
Keeping your information private while using social media can be a challenging task. The entire premise of these platforms encourages members to reveal lots of personal information about themselves.
It is possible to use social media while maintaining some sense of privacy. Here are a few ideas to stay safe while enjoying the social aspects:
- Use the settings that limit who can see your posts. Keeping posts private will allow those you know to see them without strangers viewing them.
- Get to know the privacy practices of your social media platforms. It is an unfortunate truth that even the most popular social media sites could be misusing your data.
- Reconsider posting images or updates that clearly reveal where you are and what you are doing.
Location Data is Being Tracked
While enabling location tracking is convenient for using GPS or weather apps, it can leave you vulnerable to major breaches of privacy. Much of this data is collected and given to third parties like marketing companies.
In some more scandalous cases, this data can be used for nefarious reasons by a variety of interests like the government or hackers. For privacy, consider turning location tracking on your device off.
Privacy is a valuable commodity, and it is becoming increasingly rare. Taking these precautions can provide you with the confidence that you are doing all you can to keep your privacy intact.
Petr is a serial tech entrepreneur and the CEO of Apro Software, a machine learning company. Whenever he’s not blogging about technology for itechgyan.com or softwarebattle.com, Petr enjoys playing sports and going to the movies. He’s also deeply interested about mediation, Buddhism and biohacking.