For the average person, who uses the Internet regularly without much awareness, it’s pretty big.
We leave records everywhere we go. Trails of searches, emails, tweets, online purchases and subscriptions.
The creepy part is that this data doesn’t just disappear. It’s collected by search engines, social media platforms and other websites. It’s used for research, website analysis and developing customer profiles.
Most disturbingly, it’s not anonymous. This data can be used to create detailed profiles of individuals and their behavior, and track them both online and in the real world.
If you’re bothered by this, you’re not alone.
Fortunately, there are ways to minimize your online presence. From something as simple as using a private search engine to running Tor through a VPN, with a little extra care you’ll be able to use the Internet safely and anonymously.
Use a private search engine
This should go without saying: stop using Google search.
When you search on Google, your entire search history, as well as what results from your click on, is recorded and saved. It’s traceable to your name and personal identity. You can even download it, if you want to be reminded of all the embarrassing and questionable things you’ve searched for over the past few years.
At some point, Google will probably sell your data to a third party, who will exploit it for targeted ad campaigns.
Along the way, you risk falling victim to fraud, spying or identity theft if your information is stolen or accidentally leaked.
Plus, it’s fair game for law enforcement. It can become part of an investigation without your knowledge.
Remember that if you can download it, anyone with some hacking skills probably can too.
No public search engine is truly safe. Try instead a private search engine like MyPrivateSearch, Ixquick or DuckDuckGo.
These encrypted search engines require a small sacrifice of convenience. Since they don’t collect data or track your computer, they can’t link together your searches and anticipate your every move like Google does.
However, that’s a small price to pay in exchange for safety and privacy. you can find more information about how to protect your information from been exploit by google here.
Get off Google’s other services
Gmail, Calendar, Google Maps, Google Docs… the list goes on.
It takes some effort to avoid Google completely. You even have to steer clear of YouTube (owned by Google) and Twitter (recently partnered).
Using MapQuest might feel like falling back into 2005, but it gets you where you need to go without tracking your every move.
Try OX Documents for documents, presentations and spreadsheets.
It’s also possible to delete your records from many Google services. You’ll have to go into the Settings page one by one and clear them. Also, make sure to deactivate tracking and location reporting on your phone.
Delete your random accounts
Do you still get emails from websites you visited years ago?
Take the time to track down all of your old “ghost” accounts and delete them.
If you have a Google account, it’s actually possible to erase all of your linked accounts in one go, using Deseat. All you have to do is enter your Gmail address and all the accounts you’ve created with it will pop up. You can clean up your whole online presence with a single click.
Use SudoPay for online shopping
It’s hard to stay private when you’re feeding your name, credit card number and billing address into some website.
The next time you want to buy something online, try a new app called SudoPay. This app, which also offers secure calls and messaging, allows you to set up a virtual debit card. You can load it with money and provide a fake name, address and phone number in case billers ask for it.
With this digital card, you can make purchases without ever giving retailers access to your real identity and credit card number.
Download anti-tracking software
Usually, whenever you visit a website, that site is able to track you. These tools allow you to see which companies are tracking you and block them from collecting and selling your information.
- Disconnect (probably the strongest but only available for Firefox and Chrome)
- Abine Blur (formerly Do Not Track Me)
- Privacy Badger
Set up a VPN
A virtual private network basically creates a connection between your computer and a secure server operated by the VPN service. It’s as if you’re working in a company, using their private network, and no-one else has access to it.
This prevents anyone on the same WiFi hotspot from intercepting your traffic and potentially stealing your passwords or other information. This should be a concern whenever you use a public WiFi connection, like at Starbucks, a hotel or on the NYC subways!
Bonus: you can use your VPN to stream Netflix while abroad.
Use Tor to make your IP address untraceable
Last but definitely not least, there’s Tor.
The Tor network is one of the strongest ways to become invisible online. Originally developed by the U.S. Navy, it’s become a safe haven for activists, journalists, hackers, people who like to download copyrighted music from PirateBay, and many others who want to avoid prying eyes.
Simply put, it works by relaying your connection through a network of Tor-enabled computers. It’s like an alternate Internet.
It goes through the computers at random, and each one can only access the IP address of the computer directly before it.
By the time you reach your destination site, your information is scattered over multiple computers around the world.
It’s easy to get started: just download the browser.
Whitehat Aviator used to be a highly private alternative browser built on the same source code as Google Chrome, making it attractive and easy to use. However, in January 2015 it became an open source project without official support, so it’s not such a secure option anymore.
So if you’re serious about going incognito, stick with Tor.
Just keep in mind that it’s a bit of a Wild West out there. You’re brushing shoulders with the dark web on these browsers, and many cyber-criminals reportedly store malware on Tor. It’s private but not necessarily risk-free.
These steps are really just a few ideas to get you started.
With the blazing pace of Internet evolution, it’s hard to say what the landscape might look like six months from now. We could see widespread adoption of alternative service providers like private search engines and anti-tracking software, pressuring the big corporations to respect their users’ privacy. Or, we could see new technology bringing in even more advanced ways to invade our privacy.
So stay on top of the news, be aware of your footprint and be safe!
This article was sponsored by myprivatesearch.com team, I personally recommend it since it’s free, gives quality search results, and it can seriously protect your privacy. click to try.