Maintaining your privacy while using the internet has become more challenging over the years. The recent Facebook privacy scandal made that abundantly clear, with users shocked at how much information had been recorded about them. While it’s almost impossible to enjoy the internet and leave zero digital footprints, there are things you can do to hide your online activities – some more effective than others.
1. Get a virtual private network (VPN)
A fancy name that means that an encrypted connection is created between your computer and the VPN company, so that when you visit a website, the website can only see the VPN company computer – not yours. VPNs aren’t just for business and downloaders now, they’ve gone mainstream and are even advertised on national TV (such as NordVPN advertisments).
The other computer could be in another city or another country, which is why some people use VPN’s to watch movies and programs that you do not get in the UK, as you can get extra content in other countries and can access that extra content if the VPN computer is in that country (although this is usually frowned upon by providers such as Netflix who actively try to block it).
You essentially run around the internet pretending to be another computer in another location. Since your connection is encrypted, even your broadband company can’t see what you’re doing online, making your usage anonymous.
The downsides: Because your internet usage has to route through another computer first, your browsing and download speed could be affected. Some (not all) can be tricky to set up and not all VPNs offer the same privacy levels (the better ones tend to be more expensive). Some websites may even block visits from people using VPNs, so you may end up switching it on/off as required.
2. Go Incognito, InPrivate or Private Window
Most browsers have a private browsing mode, each called something different. For example, Google Chrome calls it ‘incognito’, Microsoft calls it ‘InPrivate’ and Firefox calls it ‘Private Window’. Before you take the name at face value, it’s a good idea to talk about how they define ‘private’.
Unlike a VPN where you can dance around the internet anonymously, private browsing simply means it won’t show up in your browser history, or what you entered into forms. This feature is free, so you always have the option to use it, and it’s actually more helpful than you might think. Common uses include price shopping to reset sale timers, access local-only pricing and overriding usage limits on certain sites.
While private browsing can help keep your internet usage under wraps, it’s not a magic bullet to cover all possibilities. Many people believe they’re invisible AND invulnerable while private browsing, a mistake they end up paying for.
The downsides: It can’t pre-fill saved passwords and it won’t help you type in the website name even if you’ve been there before.
3. Always think about who’s watching
While you might be naturally careful when using a public computer, have you thought about who’s watching what you do on your work computer? Some workplaces have employee monitoring software that tracks all sorts of data, including taking screenshots of your desktop. It helps them create rules about computer usage but it may also provide them with evidence you’ve been breaking those rules.
Stepping out to the internet cafe can be even more risky, as people can install keyloggers that record every keystroke, including your credit card numbers and logins. You’ll never know your activities are being recorded, even if you use private browsing.
The downsides: Being aware of who may be watching? None.
Awareness of the risks and the possibility of being watched ensures you’re more likely to use the internet safely.
Whatever you choose to do to protect your privacy, you’ll still need solid anti-virus and password habits to protect against threat, and to be a smart internet user who avoids suspect websites. Consider the options above as privacy-enhancing measures, not one-stop solutions.
Need help with your online privacy? Give us a call on 01455 209505.