Privacy on the internet is something we should all seek. Even if you feel you have “nothing to hide” you probably still value having curtain on your windows, and you would probably prefer that your credit card statement not be broadcast to everyone each month.
Here are my tips for maintaining privacy:
Stop Giving Out Your Personal Information
Today, many companies want to collect your personal information in databases. Here are some tools to avoid this process:
The Blur service can mask your personal information, it can generate:
- Email addresses that forward to your real address until you choose to block them
- Phone numbers that redirect your real number until you choose to block them
- Disposable credit card numbers with a set amount of funds that work until you choose to block them
The service works as a browser extension (for Firefox or Chrome) or a mobile app (for iOS or Android). In a browser, you’ll be prompted to create masked information when you are typing information into an online form that asks for your email address, phone number or credit card. The service costs $5 per month or $45 per year.
See my article Blur: Protect Your Contact Information for more details.
The Fake Name Generator is a free tool that instantly creates a set of fake credentials, for dealing with companies that request unnecessary personal information. It will create a completely fictitious identity that includes a fake name, telephone number, email address, street address and credit card number.
You can read about other ways to opt-out here.
Use A Search Engine That Doesn’t Track You
Disconnect Search is a service that allows you search privately on Google, Bing and Yahoo and others.
StartPage is a search engine that removes all identifying information from your query and submits it anonymously to Google.
See my article How To Make Your Searches Private, Ad-Free And Uncluttered for more details.
Move Away From Email Providers That Scan Your Email
- we use encrypted SMTP for sending your mail when the receiving server supports it
- we mandate encrypted access for webmail, IMAP and POP
- we use Perfect Forward Secrecy where possible for all encrypted connections
- we encrypt all email while at rest on our servers
- we encrypt communications between our data centers
FastMail‘s prices start at $20 per year.
You can access you email via a webmail interface, or via mobiles devices and email clients via IMAP/POP. You can export all your data at any time. Prices start at $11 per month.
If you need end-to-end email encryption, consider Tutanota.
See my article A List Of Email Providers That Don’t Track You for more information.
Blocking Websites That Track You
Many popular search engines like Google and Bing save your search history. Typically, your searches are saved along with some information about your computer (e.g. your IP address, User Agent and often a unique identifier stored in a browser cookie), and if you are logged in, your name and email address as also recorded. With this information, your searches can be tied together. This means someone can see everything you’ve been searching, not just one isolated search. You can usually find out a lot about a person from their search history.
They also save cookies on your browser to uniquely identify you. For example, when you search for something private, you are sharing that private search not only with your search engine, but also with all the sites that you clicked on (for that search). See this page for more info.
Tips on web browser privacy:
- Use a secure web browser like Firefox with privacy-mode turned on
- Turn off third-party cookies — these are cookies that are sent to advertising firms. Turning off these cookies just means you’ll be tracked less — it won’t affect your browsing ability..
- I prefer to turn off cookies completely, and use the Cookie Whitelist add-on to only accept cookies from specific sites where I login
- You can install a extension like uBlock Origin (Firefox, Chrome) to block ads, thereby reducing the amount of information collected by advertisers
- The HTTPs Everywhere is an extension for the Firefox and Chrome browsers, made by the Electronic Frontiers Foundation. It encrypts your communications with many major websites, giving you a basic level of web browsing privacy.
- You can turn off Java and Flash in your browser (both can be a security risk — see an explanation here)
- Stylish for Firefox or Stylish for Chrome are add-ons change the CSS of websites to remove clutter and ads
- If you want to browse anonymously, use the Tor Browser Bundle. It is a free application that is available for Windows, Macs and Linux. See my article on Tor for more details.
Use A Password Manager
Password managers allow you create strong, unique passwords for each website account you have. They can also automatically log you into websites, thus preventing key-logging (attempts to capture your keystrokes and hence your passwords).
Another alternative is Keypass. It’s a free, open source password manager, but does have many of the useful features of LastPass.
Use A VPN To Avoid Snoopers
See my article The Best VPNs for a list of all my recommended VPN providers.
You may wish to get a VPN-capable router. The router will provides a VPN connections to all your computers and mobile devices. You won’t have to install a VPN client on each device, all those connected devices count as one connection with your VPN provider.
Use Privacy-Friendly Social Networking Apps
Retroshare is a free, open source messaging system for encrypted “friend-to-friend” communication.
WordPress is a great free and open source blogging system.
Use Encrypted Phones and SMS
Use An Encrypted Cloud Service
It doesn’t make sense stores file on a server that is not encrypted. Your files are available to company employees and potential hackers.
I recommend Seafile –a “zero-knowledge” cloud provider — all the files you upload to the Seacloud are encrypted before they leave your computer. This means the company never has access to your encryption keys. The price of the service is $10 per month.
Use Computers and Mobile Devices That Don’t Track You
Currently, your best choice for a private mobile device is one that runs Android which is technically open source. However, the Android operating system provided with phones and tablets is often modified with the addition of proprietary applications from Google or others and may compromise your privacy.
The Blackphone is a privacy-friendly smart phone produced by Silent Circle. The phone features encrypted phone service, secure messaging and many other security-oriented features. See my article on Blackphone for more details.
You can also “jailbreak” an Android device, and replace the OS with Replicant (a free Android distribution) or CyanogenMod. See The Unlockr website for more information on how to unlock/root your device (or go directly to Cyanogenmod or F-Droid).
Kubuntu is a robust, easy-to-use Linux distribution.
Secure Your Computers
Use a strong passwords for your user accounts. Set your computer to log you out after 15 minutes. Encrypt your hard drives where possible. Some Mac and Linux installations have drive encryption built into the operating system — you just have to turn it on.
Secure Your Home Network
When setting up a wireless network use WPA2 encryption, use MAC address identification, set you network to not announce itself.
Set up you your router’s firewall — only open necessary ports. PeerGuardian is a privacy-oriented firewall application
Use A Private Operating System If You Need To Be Anonymous
Tails is a free operating-system designed to be used from a DVD or a USB stick independently of the computer’s original operating system. Tails can be run in “read-only” installation, meaning it does not write any files to disk. This provides a high level of privacy because the operating system leave no traces of the user’s activities, and there’s little chance of the user being monitored by key-loggers and other tracking software.
You can also run an OS inside a Virtual VM — see my article Running A Virtual Machine for more details.
The Prism Break website is another good list of privacy-friend apps and service.