Online privacy is slowly becoming obsolete. With recent revelations of the NSA spying on citizens and the common occurrence of cookie tracking, more personal information is being gathered than most of us would like. Simply put, web browsing has become an activity that is incredibly intrusive in regards to privacy.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of ways to protect your online identity and prevent your browsing habits from being tracked and sold to the highest bidder. While some methods are better than others, any step that you take towards keeping yourself anonymous on the web can have a huge impact on what corporations and government agencies can learn about you and your interests.
HOW AM I BEING TRACKED?
There are a ton of methods of tracking that are practiced today. The fact of the matter is, corporations want to know everything about you: your opinions, your recently visited places, your favorite products, your interests… In fact, all of these personal details are tracked by default.
Have you ever questioned how Amazon knows exactly what you are looking for when you visit their home page, or how advertisements on websites relate to recent interests? These occurrences aren’t coincidences. This is the result of companies tracking people who surf the web in order to increase sales. Here’s a few ways they pull it off:
Cookies are great. They store passwords so that you don’t have to keep typing them in, they save unfilled web forms so that you can come back to them later, and they can even save options that you specify on a website. They make surfing the web a faster, more streamlined experience. However, companies take advantage of these neat little bits of data in order to track what websites you visit.
Here’s how it works: when an advertisement is displayed on a web page, a cookie with a unique number is saved to your computer. Then, when an advertisement is displayed on another website, it reads the cookie that was saved and reports data back to the ad network. Over time, they accumulate data and begin to identify who you are based on what websites you visit. This in turn allows the ad network to display advertisements that are tailored to people with specific interests.
This process is the same way Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other Information Technology companies track internet users. While there tends to be a lot of disapproval in regards to this process, it is completely anonymous and cannot spy on any personal information that may be present on a website. The only data being sent back to the ad networks are the unique number of the cookie and the website that you are visiting.
How to get rid of cookies: There are a number of ways to remove cookies or block them completely. The steps required to do so depend on the web browser that you are using.
- Internet Explorer
- Google Chrome
- Mozilla Firefox
- iPhone/iPad (Safari)
Google Analytics is a program that tracks visitor data. It is extremely beneficial for owners of websites to be able to see where visitors are coming from and what they are doing on the site. This helps the owner to improve content and create things that cater to the major demographic of visitors the site receives.
Here’s the rundown: The owner of a webpage wants to see how many people are visiting his site. He takes a special code that Google Analytics generates and places it on his website. When visitors come to his site, the code sends messages back to Google, and tracking begins. Data recorded include where the person came from, what they do on the site, and how they leave. It also can pinpoint the person to a specific demographic: their age, gender, and location.
How to Opt Out of Google Analytics: Google recognizes that not all users want to be tracked. To respect the privacy of users who request it, they have released a browser addon that disables Google Analytics functionality. You can download the addon here.
HOW TO STAY ANONYMOUS ONLINE
While blocking cookies and opting out of Google Analytics already removes a huge footprint that normal browsing would leave, there are still a handful of ways that you are being tracked and identified. Everyone deserves privacy, so we’ve researched the best ways to avoid being tracked and compiled a list of the best solutions.
A VPN is a service which anonymizes you from any and all tracking. It works by encrypting your internet traffic and running it through a relay server located somewhere in the world. These servers can be as close as a few cities away, or they can be located on the other side of the planet. Either way, your traffic is encrypted and any attempts of tracking result in the details of the server’s location being sent instead of yours.
There are a plethora of companies that provide VPN Networks, and hey are located around the globe. While choosing a close-by provider, you will experience a faster connection, but by choosing a server located in another country, you will be guaranteed full anonymity. Additionally, some companies keep logs of VPN usage. When selecting a VPN for yourself, be sure to check that the service does not keep any logs.
Here are a few reputable VPN Networks:
- Hidepad VPN for iPod, iPhone, and iPad – Hidepad is a foolproof VPN service for Apple mobile devices. It is easy to set up and incredibly fast.
- VPNAce – VPNAce sells VPN Networks located outside the United States. It offers blazing fast speeds and top-notch anonymity. They offer a free trial to test the waters and see if a VPN is for you.
- HideMyAss – HideMyAss has been around for a few years, and it’s millions of users don’t lie. Their service is great. The only caveat is that the servers are shared with other users, causing the VPN to sometimes go down or block you from specific sites.
Tor, also known as The Onion Router, is a VPN project that completely anonymizes your web surfing. It works by scrambling data through multiple servers before it makes its way to your computer, making it very hard if not impossible to track. For various technical and legal reasons (do a Google search for “Dark Web”), we don’t recommend it as your choice for staying anonymous online. However, if you have technical prowess and are in search of a free solution, you can get Tor Browser here.