Given the widespread tracking of our online activities by commercial organisations, hackers and governments the concept of privacy might seem like a quaint idea. The truth is that the state of internet privacy is extremely poor and a pale imitation of the real thing. But that said there are plenty of steps that can be taken to improve your privacy. You don’t need to follow all of the steps listed below but even adopting one or two could significantly enhance your privacy and boost your anonymity.
- Anonymising operating systems
Most of us use standard operating systems such a Windows or MacOS. However there are other operating systems we can use that anonymise users. For instance Tails is a live operating system that you can start on almost any computer from a USB stick or a DVD. Tails preserves your privacy and anonymity; all connections to the Internet go through Tor network nodes which ensure users are anonymous. There are operating systems which provide anonymity such as Ironkey Workspace, ZeusGuard and Qubes OS.
A virtual private network (VPN) anonymises your web surfing and keeps your communications private. They are specifically built to make your internet connection more difficult to identify and track as well as encrypting your communications.
Tor is often thought of as a browser which it is, but is also much more. It’s a system consisting of tools, browsers, application programming interfaces and a network all dedicated to helping you stay anonymous online. When you use the Tor browser you enter a Tor network path and the traffic to and from your destination is routed through a random set of Tor network nodes. Tor is one of the best ways to stay anonymous when combined with other privacy tools.
Privacy Badger is a browser plug-in offered by the Electronic Freedom Foundation. Available for Chrome and Firefox, it stops advertisers and third-party trackers from tracking your web browsing, including what pages you visit. It watches third-party domains that place images, scripts and advertising in web pages you visit and stop them from tracking you.
- Free applications can track you
Free applications come with a price. If an application is free and it isn’t designed to protect your privacy and its popular then it’s very likely that it contacts servers and send back information about how you are using the product.
If you have a few privacy features in place the Electronic Freedom Foundation provides a service to assess how well they are working. Simply click through to this page
and click the Test Me button.
Popular search engines like Google and Bing keep track of your searches so they can target ads at you. The DuckDuckGo browser is designed to protect your privacy so your searches aren’t tracked.
- Sharing files anonymously
Dropbox is very popular file sharing service. But as Edward Snowden said it is “hostile to privacy.” A free alternative that enables anonymity is OnionShare. It’s available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Ubuntu.
- Delete cookies and browsing history
It’s a good idea to regularly clean out cookies that websites use to track you and your browsing history. These can be used to identify where you’ve been. CCleaner is a useful free tool that enables you to do this quickly. There are others too.
Of course protecting your privacy online can seem like too much trouble and many people don’t want to bother.
But the fact is that a large swathe of commercial entities, hackers and governments who monitor our online activities don’t want us to implement privacy solutions. They would much rather we didn’t do anything as its makes their job easier.
But privacy is a fundamental principle that we all have a right to. We wouldn’t let a stranger come into our homes and search through our private things so what right do stranger have to track and monitor our online lives? None at all.
Even a few simple steps such as installing an ad blocker and regularly cleaning out your browsing history can give you a better level of privacy than you previously have had.