Protecting Your Online Privacy

The topic of online privacy is as old as the internet itself. Since the wild west days of dial-up, the concept of sharing personal information – and conversely keeping said information safe – over the web has been of much heated debate.


Most of us who use the internet probably don’t think about how our data is being utilised, maliciously or otherwise. While it may be paranoid to assume that anyone who can access your details is a hacker with terrorist goals, a government spy or some hungry third-party agent looking to target ads at you, it’s not such a bad idea to remain mindful of how much we’re willing to share.


Since the recent hacking scandal surrounding Sony – and let’s not forget the NSA whistleblowing by Edward Snowden – people are more aware (or they should be) of ways they can protect their identity over the internet.


True you will never be completely anonymous, but there are a few things you can do to reduce your digital fingerprint.


Be Wary Of Social Media Logins


With so many websites to explore on the World Wide Web, it can be difficult to keep track of our login details and how many accounts we have stored on data-banks. Social media has made the process more streamline by allowing users to log into a variety of websites using just their Facebook, Twitter or Google+ account.


While there are advantages to doing this, logging in this way means you leave a digital footprint behind. This in turn means that wherever you go, social networking will always be following you. Let’s face it, we all need a break from Facebook every now and then.


In short: just stick to using each individual website’s internal login system. Write down all your usernames and passwords if need be.


Likewise, Be Careful What You Share On Social Media


Not that we mean to keep having a dig at Facebook or Twitter, but it’s no secret that so many people are a little too eager to unleash a torrent of personal information on a whim. From up-to-the-minute status updates to the ‘Check In’ feature which allows users to tell everyone exactly where they, it’s becoming easier than ever to harvest information from willing participants.


The bottom line is, anything you share on social media (or anywhere on the internet for that matter) can potentially stay around forever. Those embarrassing photos? That drunken outburst you left on your wall? It’s all there years down the line when you’ve long forgotten about it and are trying to get a high-ranking job in an important office.


Install Privacy-Specific Add-Ons For Your Browser


Of course there are some issues we have no control over. Ad agencies will always find ways to intercept our browsing habits and use them to their own diabolical ends. We can be careful about how much information we share, but inevitably some stuff will get out.


In many web browsers, we now have the option of installing add-ons that help keep things a little more secure. If you use FireFox, Chrome or Safari, the first thing you need to download is Ad Block Plus. Seriously, you need to be taking advantage of it if you want to have a completely ad-free online experience.


Many ads are targeted, which means they are aimed directly at you based on information marketers have. Using Ad Block Plus may not stop them from doing that, but it will stop you from seeing the ads themselves. It even blocks adverts on YouTube videos!


Other useful add-ons include:


Ghostery – Prevents websites from tracking you while browsing. Comes with customisable blacklist options.


Blur – Keeps your passwords, online payments and overall privacy more secure.


HTTPS Everywhere – Forces encryption on websites that support a more secure connection.


There are dozens more out there.


Use Tor


Now this one may be construed as something that only the most paranoid of people would use. The idea behind Tor (an acronym of “The Onion Router”) is to allow users to browse the internet entirely anonymously.


It does this by redirecting internet traffic between a series of networked computers, making it much more difficult (if not impossible) for trackers to see where you are or what you’re doing online. Think of it like escaping a hot pursuit by zipping up and down many different roads and alleyways to lose your would-be attackers. It’s said to be the most secure way of accessing the internet.


Admittedly there are some criticisms when it comes to software that’s this hard to crack. Because it makes internet browsing more encrypted and therefore secure, there are obvious concerns about more malicious people using it to cover their tracks.


On the plus side, the NSA themselves have actually praised Tor, calling it the “King of high-secure, low-latency Internet anonymity.” So you know it’s good!


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