Some simple things to improve your online privacy

Reading about all the ways a user is identified, tracked, and sold  across the web can make it seem like the only way to avoid this fate is to turn off your computer. But why deprive yourself of the wonderful tools available online? You shouldn’t have to.  In this post I will describe a few simple things a computer user can do to guard their privacy online.  This list is by no means exhaustive, not is it meant to me.  But these are some easy things you can do today to begin making a difference.

Take a good hard look at what web browser you’re using and consider also installing  the Brave web browser.  It blocks (most) advertising, (all known) malvertisingtracking pixels and tracking cookies , and upgrades connections to https.  Brave is available for Windows, Mac, Linux (I’m writing this in Brave for Ubuntu right now), as well as iOS and Android.  Over time, you’ll block a LOT:  Brave also gives you information about the page you’re on. This can be done via extensions with other web browsers as well but it’s built in to Brave.  For example, here’s information about the Wall Street Journal web site:

Mind you, this is a site I pay a (hefty) subscription fee to.

Finally, the team behind brave is trying to fundamentally change how online advertising works via a block-chain-based Basic Attention Token, but that’s a subject for another post.

I say also installing the Brave web browser because there may be situations where you want to use Chrome or Safari for some feature they offer that Brave doesn’t (yet). For example, when I’m doing cryptocurrency stuff, I use Chrome with the MetaMask extension to let me access blockchain-requiring sites.

Think about which search engine you use, then take a look at DuckDuckGo. They don’t collect
or share any of your personal information.  They have a helpful page on how to install DuckDuckGo as your default search engine in a range of browser:  https://duck.co/help/desktop.  What does the Brave panel look like for DuckDuckGo? I’m glad you asked:

 

Pay attention to the your privacy settings with online services. For example, the Electonic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a nice summary of why recent Twitter privacy policy changes are not necessarily in the users’ privacy interests. For any online service you use, it’s worth looking at the settings.  Canceling your account is the ultimate opt-out.

What’s in  your traffic? We no longer have an expectation of privacy from internet service providers (ISPs) due to repeal of the Broadband Privacy Rules. In other words, ISP’s can monitor, store, and sell our browsing history to a third party, hijack our searches, insert ads, and insert tracking cookies (see Five Creepy Things Your ISP Could Do……). Probably the best way to prevent this is to use a Virtual Private Network service. Most cost money, so that’s a privacy tax.  I use VyprVPN from Golden Frog and have been very happy with their product.

Finally, get serious about your passwords.  You need to be using strong, unique passwords across web sites.  Where available, two factor authentication should be enabled.  One of the interesting tidbits from the Edward Snowden movie Citizen Four is that the NSA can track you across the internet if you use the same passwords!  There are great password managers available. Brave has support for several baked right in (LastPass, DashLane, 1Password).  I’ve been using AgileBits’ One Password since it came out in 2006 but having been (slowly) moving over to LastPass since they have a Linux version.

A little time spent making these changes will go a long way toward regaining some of your online privacy.  Even just using the Brave browser and changing your search engine will help a great deal.

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