Freedom always comes at a price – that’s what our ancestors used to say, and it applies to the modern-day world perfectly. Thanks to the incredible achievements in digital technology, our kind managed to create the Internet – one of the greatest (and most dangerous) tools to ever fall into our hands. It allows us to share pictures, music, and even videos in real time with people on the other side of the planet. Social media gives access to the private lives of others with just one click/push of a button. For people back in the 70s/80s, this wasn’t even something to fantasize about; today, it’s the reality.
Sadly, the Internet is famous not only for the good that it brings but also for the constant threat of being attacked by the hackers. In order to protect yourself and your privacy from the prying eyes, you’ll need to follow certain steps and to always remember about the dangers that are lurking in the online shadows. In this post, we’ll tell you everything there is to know about online privacy and how to keep it. If you follow our guide and do everything we say, you’ll significantly increase your chances of staying safe on the WWW.
The 101 Of Online Privacy – Why Do You Need It?
For many people, the idea of concealing your identity in the globally connected world is at the very least strange. They’re confident that neither Facebook nor Twitter was ever involved in any “spying” routine. However, the real truth is – there are countless companies out there that collect more private and sensitive data about us than any governmental agency ever would. AI (Artificial Intelligence) is becoming disturbingly advanced, and today, it’s capable of creating psychological/physiological images/profiles of the online users based on their habits and preferences.
Do you remember that famous 2012 case when a world-famous company figured out a girl’s pregnancy way before her parents did? Yes, AI is that good these days. We never really think about what we’re searching online, but in reality, we are sharing all that personal information with the entire world. Would you ever share things like where you live, what you like in the opposite sex, what illness/disease is bothering you, what food you prefer, what kind of things you read/watch and what you think about the President? Probably not! But you’re doing that unconsciously.
Choosing The Right OS
The operating system can have a significant impact on your privacy (both a positive and a negative one). Even though Microsoft always talks about its impressive privacy standards in Win 10, there are a lot of flaws in that OS.
Your computer/tablet/ other gadgets will be tagged with a unique ID.
- A feature called Data Syncing is on by default (it has to do with Wi-Fi login/password, app settings and even the history of your browser).
- Microsoft is free to gather ANY personal info about its customers.
- Cortana can (and does) collect sensitive data including credit card info.
- Finally, they are allowed to share all that information with any 3rd-party person/company without ever asking you.
So, consider switching to a different OS. MacOS and Linux are far better choices. Or, use W10Privacy to turn off at least some of the “bugs” implanted by Microsoft.
Every single device that connects to the Internet has its unique IP address and literally any user with some basic skills can see it. That means that no matter what you do to hide your online activity, this IP address will “sell you out.” This is the reason why you don’t always see ads in English but instead in your native language (in the language of the country where you’re currently living, to be exact). The same concept also allows individual services to block access to their content based on the country you’re from. So, what can a regular user do?
Use A VPN For Online Privacy
Virtual Private Networks are great at concealing your true identity by making the world think you’re connecting from a different IP. Currently, there are 150+ VPNs available online – which one to choose? ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and CyberGhost are some of the best offers on the market. TunnelBear, in turn, is considered to be the most user-friendly free Network. Be careful with free services, though, as they might be selling your personal data to numerous 3rd parties. Have you ever heard about the “Digital Eyes?” It all started after WW2 when the world’s most significant powers decided to gather information on their citizens and share it with their allies.
Choose a VPN with the Zero-Logs policy. That means they simply won’t have any info on you to share with the world governments. A quick note: Even with a decent VPN, you won’t be 100% save from the all-seeing eyes. Go to privacytools.io and follows the steps there. Don’t worry – everything is simple and straightforward there.
Use Privacy Add-Ons For Your Browser
While Microsoft’s IE, Opera, and Safari aren’t particularly popular, Chrome and Firefox are the leaders today, but are they indeed better? Here’s the science: when you’re busy surfing the Internet, a unique Digital Fingerprint is formed, and it can be used to identify you and your device even with the cookies off. Yes, while online, you leave this fingerprint on every single website. It doesn’t really matter which browser you use – what matters are the settings. Go to panopticlick.eff.org – there, you’ll find a lot of revealing info about your browser. Look for the “one in x browsers have this value” column. The smaller the number, the better it is for your privacy.
Tor is specifically made to hide your identity. With it, you won’t need to tweak anything. For Firefox, there are several privacy add-ons that will get the job done. Brave (yes, it’s a browser) comes with a built-in ad/tracker blocker. For Firefox, go to Ghacks-user.js and follow their instructions. There are similar resources for Chrome as well.
Use The Privacy Mode
Remember: ALWAYS use the privacy mode. It’s available in all major browsers and will provide additional privacy. In this mode, browsers never store any data, which means no 3rd parties will be able to see the web cache, history, cookies – none of that. A quick note: this doesn’t mean that you’ll be more protected.
Don’t Forget To Clear The Cookies
This is another of those critical habits that you’ll have to develop if you value privacy. People use the word “cookies” all the time, but most of them don’t really know what it means. These are tiny text files with information about your activity online. Thanks to the cookies, you don’t have to re-enter your credentials every single time. However, in 2018, cookies also store your shopping cart preferences and “remember” what kinds of articles you read/videos you watch so that they can make the right suggestions later.
Turning cookies off completely isn’t an option, as that will make it almost impossible to use social media and shop on the Internet. Still, don’t forget to clear them on a daily basis. First of all, that will make the browser work faster. Secondly, it will be harder to track your habits/preferences.
Turn Off The Web Activity Trackers
As mentioned earlier, you can’t make a step online without being watched. Almost every single major website will track your activity on the Internet.
- Traffic Analytics help them better understand their audience and their preferences (what they like, what hardware they use, how much time they spend online, etc.).
- Current Location is mostly used to identify your geolocation in order to predict the right weather, for instance. But, this is also used to gather other info on the users.
- Social Media are known for implementing complex algorithms to create a complete picture of every single account owner. That allows them to come up with just the right links and ads to satisfy the users.
- Media Trackers are commonly used by YouTube to figure out your preferences to recommend the best possible (or, rather, fitting) videos later.
While these trackers aren’t necessarily 100% evil, they do slow down the browser and hurt your privacy a bit. Ghostery is a perfect little app for dealing with that. The installation is easy, and it works in the background.
Use Ad Blockers
These days, ads are everywhere – there’s no escaping them. Plus, they’re always on the lookout and remember which ones you click while ignoring the rest. Again, the main point of this is to memorize your preferences so that they can show you more targeted advertisement the next day. This isn’t considered to be a crime; at the same time, some ads forcefully install malware on your device or trick you into clicking them without knowing they’re ads. Thankfully, there are more than enough ad-blockers out there that will solve this problem.
Never Enter Sensitive/Important Data on non-HTTPs websites
HTTP is a lot less secure than its “elder brother” HTTPS. But how do you know which one is it? Take a good look at the address bar of your browser: what does it say at the beginning? Also, notice whether there’s a green lock there or not. The bottom line is – NEVER enter any personal/sensitive/important information (including your address and credit card information) on a website that runs on HTTP. Remember: there aren’t any workarounds for this problem – if there is no HTTPS support, then skip that website.
Forget About Twitter And Facebook – Use Telegram And Signal
Did you know that emails aren’t the most secure and private messages you can send? Direct messages on Twitter/Facebook are even less safe. Recently, the hackers got access to approximately 32 million (!) Twitter passwords. Telegram and Signal are your best options. These two offer the best security and privacy thanks to the so-called end-to-end encryption algorithms. Fact: voice calls in these messengers are more secure than the regular calls.
Switch To Secure Mail
True, we did just say that email isn’t very secure; regardless, people are still using it in their daily lives. The bigger question is – are there any ways to make it more reliable and secure? Yes, there are. First of all, forget about the free services like Gmail – go for something commercial that will cost you money. Tutanota is one of the best offers on the market and features a 100% encrypted box. If you don’t want to “break up” with Gmail, make sure to at least install specific extensions for Chrome (like FlowCrypt) that allow end-to-end encryption (yes, just like Telegram and Signal).
Protect Your Cloud Storage
Recently, cloud storages have become extremely popular. Sadly, they are pretty easy to hack. Furthermore, the biggest players like Google, Apple, Dropbox, and others clearly state that your files will be thoroughly examined whenever a court order comes their way. Most people don’t care about this; for others, the idea of someone else going through their files is disturbing. There is a workaround – encryption. There are numerous programs online that will encrypt your files. Or, go with a cloud storage service that will do that for you.
Never Surf The Web Without Anti-Virus/Malware Protection
It’s no secret that a nasty virus can destabilize and even break down a computer/ other devices. There are some types of malware that install themselves onto your device and send sensitive information to the hacker. Yes, this means that in time, they will find your passwords, credit card information, and other vital stuff. Kaspersky, Avast, and Bitdefender are some of the best solutions on the market.
Use A Firewall
Some users think that an Antivirus is enough, but it isn’t. Pair it with a firewall if you need optimal protection. Firewalls are excellent at detecting and blocking potentially dangerous traffic. Sometimes, the installation process can be both hard and boring, but it is, without a doubt, worth it.
Be Careful With The Permission You Give To The Apps On Your Phone
Every single application on a mobile device requires the user to give it specific permissions to operate correctly. However, it’s not rare for some apps to be overly demanding. Be extra careful with this and always be vigilant about the permissions you give out and cut anything suspicious that comes your way. Or, better yet, open the list of installed apps on your phone and take a good look at the permissions you gave out previously. In most cases, it’s possible to “take back” some of that freedom and still have the apps running.
Think About Buying A Newer Phone/Smartphone
While the biggest moguls in the business are always trying to make us buy all their latest stuff, the customers aren’t quick to say goodbye to their trusty old gadgets. New doesn’t always mean bad. Apple, Samsung, and other leaders invest vast amounts of money into improving the security of their devices. Another fact: older models aren’t very friendly with updates; with newer ones, you won’t ever have a problem with that.
Don’t Lose Your Guard With Social Media
As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of potential threats when using social media. In a perfect world, it would be best to delete your Facebook account and never go back to it. But that’s not an option for most of us. So, as an alternative, be extra careful with the information that you put out there. Sharing your current location is fun sometimes; on the other hand, it’s not rare for the robbers to take advantage of your current location (on a trip to a foreign country, for example) and, well, to rob your house.
Consider Removing Facebook From Your Mobile Device
You must’ve heard those crazy allegations towards Facebook claiming that the company listens to the phone calls of its users. No, unlike the government, Facebook isn’t trying to figure out whether we’re terrorists or not. All they want to do is to learn about our preferences so that their ads hit closer to heart. That doesn’t change the fact that this is creepy and against the law, though. While there are no proofs of this, it would be best to uninstall Facebook from your phone.
Consider Saying No To Google
We’re talking about every single product from the company, including Drive, Gmail, and, of course, the browser. Because this company is so big and influential, the people working there probably know more about you than your closest friends/relatives! That doesn’t necessarily mean bad news for you. If you’re an open person and don’t mind others knowing some personal stuff about you, then it’s Ok. DuckDuckGo is a worthy alternative for the all-mighty Google. Drive and Dropbox are great, but SpiderOak and similar services will do just as fine (even the notorious Mr. Snowden gave a thumbs up to it once).
Amazon Echo Is A Hidden Spy
True, this thing is pretty awesome and makes you feel like the future is already here. On the other hand, it’s the ultimate listening device: it is busy 24/7, listening in to EVERY single thing people in your house say. And the users don’t have any control over what the device sends over to the company’s servers. Amazon claims that they never share any data with 3rd-parties, but you never know. Same goes for Google’s Home: this device is even a bigger spy.
Avoid Public Wi-Fi Hotspots
Yes, we know that public Wi-Fi is convenient, especially when you’re having a cup of coffee at the local café. But the truth is – they’re a nightmare for online privacy.
- First of all, there’s no way you can know who is taking care of the hotspot, what software they’re running it on, etc.
- Secondly, the hackers really love to create “twins” of Wi-Fi networks and thus get access to the sensitive data of random users. Say, there’s a network titled “Free Burger King Internet” – there’s no telling whether it’s the real thing or not. If you make the mistake of connecting to it, the “evil hackers” on the other end will be able to steal information from you.
- Finally, even a VPN won’t be able to help you. Virtual Private Networks are quite impressive, but not when you’re on a fake network.
Is It All Worth It?
The short answer is yes. While privacy comes at a price today and you’ll need to invest a lot of money, time, and effort into protecting yourself on the Internet, it’s all worth it at the end of the day. Cyber Attacks are a reality in the 21st century, and they’re not going to stop in the nearest future. So, make sure to follow at least some of the precautions described in this article. Stay safe!