4 Tips to Protect Your Privacy Online

Privacy, Please: Hands Off My Data

By Jeremy Del Nero on 9 May 2017
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Recent legislation allowing Internet service providers to sell customer data such as geolocation, browser history, and other personal information means that anyone using the Internet has to take matters into his own hands. It’s especially important for those who travel frequently to feel secure in their browsing habits, which is why we’ve outlined some important measure to ensure security and privacy online.

1.) Browse in private mode

If you simply want to stop targeted advertisements, you can use your current web browser in private mode. Every major web browser has such an option, or you can use a specific search engine such as DuckDuckGo.com to conduct individual searches under the radar. Make sure you are signed out of all social media and Google accounts while using private browsing so none of this data will be affiliated with your online profiles. While you may not see ads for cars pop up after searching for “Honda,” private browsing unfortunately doesn’t mask your activity from your Internet service provider (ISP).

2.) Enable HTTPS Everywhere

The ‘S’ stands for secure, and that’s exactly how your data will be treated. Many sites that handle sensitive personal information enable HTTPS by default, but a handy browser extension, HTTPS Everywhere (SSL Always for Safari), promises to use a secure connection whenever possible and identify when unsecure connections are placing your data at risk. The extension, available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, encrypts your data from end to end and prevents anybody in the middle, including your ISP, from intercepting any data you send through this connection. The only downside is that your ISP will still see which sites you are visiting, even if it can’t read any of the data you send. Also, since many sites don’t support HTTPS, it might be time to try anonymous browsing.

3.) Use The Onion Router (TOR) to Browse Anonymously

If private browsing doesn’t check off all of your boxes, or you want to hide your activity not just from middle-men but also your ISP and the government, try using Tor. Tor is a standalone web browser albeit with limited functionality. Opening up Tor will create a secure connection to one of the organization’s trusted relay servers, where all activity is encrypted and undecipherable by your ISP. This is especially helpful if you want a truly secure browsing experience for a few select tasks (such as personal shopping or banking). But only what happens within Tor will be kept private, so any activity outside the app (such as an email client) will not benefit from the same protection. If that’s something you need, it may be time to look into a virtual private network (VPN).

4.) Choose a VPN Service

Virtual Private Networks funnel all outgoing internet traffic through a relay server, encrypting the data at your end and decrypting it on the other, making it unreadable to your ISP. There are a number of VPN services available and most of them have a partner app that can be installed on your mobile device (keep in mind that your mobile service provider is also technically an Internet service provider).

While VPNs may sound like the best solution for offering blanket protection and staying stealthy online, there are a few caveats. Most free VPNs are limited in their functionality, so be prepared to shell out a monthly or annual fee for the service. Also, keep in mind that VPNs do not protect against advertisers and data miners, who will still be able to track your activity, even if they can’t pinpoint it to your IP address and location.

VPNs can also be difficult to set up, and any slip-up could compromise your real IP address. Furthermore, VPNs are unregulated, so while you may be keeping your data private from your ISP, you’ll be entrusting it to another private entity. Finally, as you might expect with encrypting and relaying your data to servers around the globe, you may notice a slowdown in your Internet speed. There isn’t one “best” VPN, so make sure you do your research about a trustworthy VPN and follow all of the steps accordingly if you decide to go this route. Or, follow in the footsteps of FBT’s editorial director Jonathan Spira and establish your own VPN.

It should go without saying that connecting to any sketchy hotspots, especially ones that are unlocked and in public areas, could very easily jeopardize your data and should be avoided. We hope these suggestions, along with a little common sense, will help you keep your data secure.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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