In today’s digital age, personal data is so lucrative it’s called the new crude oil. Billions of dollars are made (and spent) collecting it as we browse online. Some people argue that’s the price we have to pay to keep the internet free. Without adverts that can target you using this data, websites wouldn’t make money, and would then have to charge you. With vulture sites scavenging your personal data, it’s never been more important to stay anonymous online.
The issue of online privacy is always has been a topic of talk, but due to recently happened Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, regulators are seriously thinking about taking some solid decision in this direction. While some data collection may be acceptable, there’s no justification for such a mass abuse of privacy. Are other companies (Google in particular) looking nervously at events, wondering if they’ll be the next to come under scrutiny?
Regulators are bound to come down hard on Facebook, forcing it and other similarly arrogant tech giants to change their ways of doing business. However, you don’t have to wait until the authorities act. Reclaiming your privacy is a matter of using tools that keep you anonymous online. In this post, we reveal the 10 most effective ways to stay anonymous online.
We start with urgent changes you can make quickly, such as tweaking your browser’s settings, so it always launches in private mode, before moving on to more advanced measures. Not all 10 tips will suit the way you browse the web. Some will be overkill,
while others may require too drastic a change in behavior. Breaking habits learned from 20 years spent online is hard. However, they are all powerful ways to stop the abuse of your private data by tech giants.
1. Swap Google for DuckDuckGo
Google collects plenty of other information, including when you typed something and where then plotting it on a map. To avoid this stalking, you have two options. The first thing you can do is disable Google’s search tracking and location history. Sign into your Google account (https://myaccount.google.com), click the My Activity box at the bottom, then Activity controls on the left. On the following page decide what to turn off, such as the Location History slider, and the Web & App Activity slider (see screenshot below), which will stop Google saving your searches.
The alternative is to say goodbye to Google and use DuckDuckGo (https://duckduckgo.com) instead. It doesn’t collect any of your personal data, though it does monitor what you search to understand any misspelled words better. Duckduckgo also tracks some searches that go to online e-commerce retailers because It makes money through affiliated links. However, none of this is a misuse of your personal privacy, so it’s considerably more private than Google. To make DuckDuckGo your default search engine in Chrome, click the top right menu(three vertical dots), click Settings, then under Search engine click Manage search engines. Scroll down to find DuckDuckGo, then click the three dots to its right and select Make default.
2. Turn off location data
Your location data matters a lot to advertisers. From it, they can tell where you live, where you work, and plenty of other information about your lifestyle. That’s why you should consider disabling your location in your browser as well as in Google. The process is similar in Chrome, Firefox, Edge. In Chrome, first, click the top-right menu, click Settings, then scroll down and find Advanced. Next, in the Privacy and security section, click Content Settings, then Ask before accessing under the Location head. Next, click the top-right blue slider to switch off all location tracking. To block all location tracking make sure the top-right blue slider is switched off.
If you feel that’s too drastic, ensure the slider is left on, showing Ask before accessing (recommended). This will force sites to ask your permission to track your location, so be prepared to click no rather frequently.
3. Change hidden browser settings
Disabling location tracking is just one of many browser settings you can tweak to reclaim your privacy. However, some browsers try to dissuade you from changing them by hiding their privacy options in Advanced sections. They hope you’ll think: Advanced? I better not touch those then’. This is a cynical ploy, and the truth is browsers don’t want you to deactivate settings that may harm their advertising revenue. In an ideal world, privacy options would be upfront in a browser’s settings.
Here, we’ll explain how to find these hidden settings and tweak them to your advantage. In Chrome, go to Settings, Advanced, then Privacy and security. Here, it’s worth clicking the slider that asks websites to comply with a Do Not Track request. First proposed in 2009, then maintained by two US professors in technology and law – Jonathan Mayer and Arvind Narayanan – this setting aims to reduce tracking across the web. Websites and advertisers can ignore the request, but it’s still worth asking.
4. Force sites to use https
Websites are protected either by HTTP or HTTPS, which are different ways of encrypting the traffic between your browser and a website. That S at the end stands for secure. If a URL in your browser bar is prefixed by HTTPS, it’s using the most secure standard of encryption, making it harder for anyone to eavesdrop on your online activities. Chrome highlights it in green(now changed to grey), showing a secure lock in the URL bar. You can’t merely enable HTTPS on a website that doesn’t support it. That’s a job for the site’s developers. Some sites already use it by default, but many don’t. Others include elements, such as adverts, that don’t connect over HTTPS. That’s why you should install the HTTPS Everywhere extension. Built by developers at the privacy campaign group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the anonymous browser Tor, it works in Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Firefox for Android. Once installed, it simply forces websites to use HTTPS if they can, meaning you have as much protection as is currently available.
5. Use incognito mode
Choosing private browsing mode, also known as incognito mode opens a fresh window where you can do whatever you like without your browser saving information on what you searched for or any data you enter into online forms. It’s handy if you share your computer with others and want to keep your browsing secret. This isn’t as sneaky as it sounds. It can be handy when you’re shopping for a gift for someone because, if they come to use the PC, they won’t see any adverts relating to presents you may have looked for, and therefore won’t ruin their surprise.
You can open a one-off private session via the drop-down menu in the top-right corner of Firefox, Chrome, and Edge. You can also set Chrome, so it always opens in private mode. Right-click the Chrome icon on your desktop, then click Properties. At the end of the Target field, after exe, type space, then -incognito. Follow the same instructions to do the same in Firefox, then type -private at the end.
6. Block adverts
There are plenty of reasons to block adverts: they’re annoying, they follow you around the web, they can be riddled with malware. There are several tools you can use to do this, and many of them have similar names (Adblock Plus, AdBlock, unlock and more).
You may be wondering whether you still need them now that Google has built a filter into Chrome that blocks Initiating adverts — the kind that plays videos automatically or pop-up as you scroll down a web page. If a site subjects you to multiple adverts like this, Google will ask it to stop. If the site refuses, Chrome will remove all ads on the site. Google’s idea is to encourage good advertising standards so that we’re not driven to block all ads — and it doesn’t lose revenue.
7. Add privacy extensions
Online advertisers are guilty of many privacy infringements, but blocking ads is only the first step. You should also use browser extensions like Ghostery (www.ghostery.com) and Disconnect (https://disconnect.me) to block marketing tools that track what you do online. If you don’t mind a site following you, add them to a whitelist. Privacy Badger (www.eff.org/privacybadger), another tool from the EFE reveals who is watching you, blocking advertisers only if they stalk you too aggressively. Install It, visit a site with
adverts, then click the badger icon to the top-right of your browser bar. You’ll see the sites’ advertising trackers listed next to sliders, which should all be green.
8. Use a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) is an encrypted tunnel your data slips through, keeping your payment-card details, browsing habits, and email correspondence safe from prying eyes. VPNs serve two purposes. First, to keep data safe from anyone ‘sniffing’ a Wi-Fi connection, preventing hackers from intercepting your data when you browse on a public Wi-Fi network (in a cafe, for example). Second, a VPN lets you access sites blocked by your ISP, such as online TV and film services that are subject to geographical restrictions.
There’s one major worry about VPNs. In the wake of US laws whittling away at net neutrality, a wave of fake VPNs popped up designed to hoover up personal data when people thought they were being protected. Meanwhile, High-Profile service Hola was revealed to be selling user data to a botnet. So you need to be very careful about which VPN you choose. The easiest VPN for beginners is TunnelBear (www.tunnelbear.com), which in March was bought by antivirus software company McAfee. Like all VPNs, it offers unlimited data only in its paid-for version. Also, consider using the browser Opera (www.opera.com), which has a VPN built in.
9. Browse the web using Tor
First used by the US Navy, Tor is privacy software that disguises your identity by moving your web traffic across servers, building up layers of encryption like the layers of an onion (TOR is short for ‘the onion router’). It gives you a different IP address every time you send or request data, disguising your actual one. Some antivirus programs, suspicious of Tor’s privacy techniques, may show a warning when you download it, but it’s safe to use. It’s now run by a non-profit organization led by computer scientists in Massachusetts.
To use Tor, you need to download its browser from their site. We also suggest you visit this link, scroll down and read the section headed ‘Want Tor to really work?’ , Which is a handy list of useful information. It explains some of the side effects of using TOR — some browser plug-ins may not work, for example – and warns you about unsafe actions while browsing in Tor, including opening downloaded documents.
10. Encrypt your emails
You can use specialized encrypted services such as ProtonMall (https://protonmail.com), which was developed by scientists working at CERN. It’s so private that it doesn’t even ask for your personal details when you sign up, just your Display name. Gmail also encrypts emails, but only in messages sent to other Gmail accounts. We wouldn’t recommend trying to encrypt emails in Outlook — it’s a real palaver. If you are sending a lot of sensitive information, we suggest you use Gmail or ProtonMail instead.