This is a continuation piece about how to achieve privacy online. In the previous Part I section we talked about Virtual Private Networks (VPN). We discussed which one that I prefer to use as well as a secondary choice. We also briefly discussed VPN-capable routers.
This series of articles will help guide you in the proper direction to obtaining privacy online. Each part of the series will focus on a different aspect of online privacy; whether it is VPNs that don’t keep logs or search engines that don’t track you.
This week’s series will cover: Tracking
What is Tracking?
When using the typical web browsers your web history is saved within the browser itself. Along with the web history, the browser saves personal information about your computer – such as your IP address, user agent, if you’re logged in, your name and email address. With all of that information someone would be able to see everything that you’ve been looking at. It wouldn’t just be a single website you were looking at, it would be everything. Cookies also give a lot of information to the site that you clicked on.
The below extensions are highly recommended however keep in mind that each browser now has the ability to set the options to “Do Not Track”. It is yet another tool in order to keep your data from being tracked.
Here are some tips on private web browsers:
- Ensure that you use a web browser that is secure – such as Firefox
- Use the HTTS Everywhere extension for Firefox or Chrome, developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. This extension tries to connect to a secure HTTPS every chance it gets while you are browsing the internet.
- Turn off Java and Flash in your browser
- AdBlock Plus is an extension that is a must-have when it comes to blocking all types of ads. Along with blocking adds it alerts the user when you are visiting known malware websites. It goes ahead and disables third party tracking cookies and scripts. AdBlock Plus doesn’t block those pop-ups that open upon mouse clicks. I suggest getting AdBlock Plus Pop-up to cope with those pesky pop-up ads.
- In order to see who is tracking you and allow yourself to block them on your web browser, I suggest using Ghostery. The Ghostery menu shows you all the bugs that were tracking you on any given website. If coding is something that you like, it also allows you to take a peak at the coding of each tracker.
- If you are a little bit technical savy, try using NoScript on Firefox. This extension has all control over what script runs on your browser. While Chrome doesn’t have NoScript is does have ScriptSafe, which does basically the same thing.
Use the Correct Search Engine
As I stated earlier when using web browsers they save your web history and particular information about you and your computer. This information is transmitted to the web sites host as well as advertising companies on that specific page. You will start to notice that the advertising companies are making an advertising profile on you. Of course you won’t physically see the profile but you will start to see advertising banners on your web browser that are related to recent searches. On top of the advertising companies that are targeting you, you could find yourself in legal trouble one day and the courts can subpoena your search history.
Another benefit of using a search engine that doesn’t track you is that you are not falling into the stereotypical searches. The browser isn’t guessing what you are wanting based off your previous searches. A lot of times they will filter out alternate opinions on topics because they downgraded your search to meet previous searches.
However there are some search engines available that do not save any bit of information about your search. I recommend the following:
StartPage offers you a search engine that does not collect any information on you while searching or use any identifying cookies. It does however still use Google, just has no strings attached. StartPage is the search engine that I prefer to use.
Disconnect Search lets you use any of the major search engines – such as Google, Bing, Yahoo!. The service doesn’t keep any logs of you unless you authorize it to and even then it only keeps that information for a month.
DuckDuckGo is yet another good option when it comes to a private search engine. DuckDuckGo prides themselves on being driven by the community. They are always looking for ways to better their product with the help of the users. Each search is anonymous and while in theory it could be tracked, there are no profiles that the history could be attached to.
Clear Your Google History
This is one bit of information that I learned while researching for more information on privacy. I knew Google tracked your browsing information through their browser however it completely eluded me that if you are logged into a Google account, they also keep logs. Regardless of what computer you are logged in to at the time, as long as you are logged into your Google account, they are tracking your page history. Apparently my settings had already been changed to not track me, however I never cleared my history. It’s May 2015 and I’m looking at things that I searched back on 28 February 2012. Which is very scary if you think about it. In order to clear your history you must sign into your Google account and go to www.google.com/history. In the upper right corner of the screen you can click on the settings gear icon and clear your history. It will also be in that menu that you will be able to turn the tracking off.
This concludes Part II of the series “A Complete Guide to Privacy Online”. Check back for Part III where we’ll be discussing how to avoid giving your personal information out online, what to do if you’re using an email service that scans your emails (which Google does) and how to protect your passwords.