4 Essentials To Maintaining Privacy and Anonymity Online
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Internet privacy is no longer an inherent right — it’s a luxury.
Between crafty advertisers, Internet Service Providers, cyber criminals and, yes, even government agencies, it’s safe to assume that someone is always tracking your online activity. If you’re truly committed to online anonymity, realize that it takes an arsenal of tools and know-how to protect your digital activity and identity. Background information about online privacy like this Beginner’s Guide to Using the Internet Anonymously can be a wonderful aid, and understanding the elements that construct your digital fingerprint — specifically your IP address, third-party cookies, and unique device information — can provide greater insight into what exactly needs to be protected.
- Monitor Your Add-Ons, Especially Java
The easiest way to begin your journey to online anonymity nirvana is to regain control over the details that your web browser is sharing with the world. In an ideal situation, you could block these add-ons altogether, but doing so would totally cripple your browsing experience. It is much more practical, albeit, less secure, to configure your browser plugins. Similar to the way that app settings can be managed on your smartphone, your extensions and plugin permissions can be individually set. You could also require that any plugin that wants to run needs explicit approval, but for the average web surfer, this repeated request may become annoying.
2. Block Flash
You, me and millions of people around the world have had Flash Player installed on our operating systems for ages. Usually one of the first downloads to any new computer, Flash once identified itself as a necessity for some of the most interactive web content. Unfortunately, it has proven time and time (and time) again that it is ridden with security flaws. Cybercriminals use the vulnerabilities in Flash to invade the computers of their victims. From there, they can remotely mine your system for data, and even lock users out of their own devices.
Now, technology improves with time, and the mass adoption of HTML5 by Google, Netflix and Facebook is rendering Flash more and more obsolete. Still, like a cockroach, Flash refuses to be exterminated. Blocking Flash is very straightforward — simply, run the software uninstaller for either Windows or Mac OS (and disable the plugin if you’re running Google Chrome) to rid yourself of the platform.
3. Encrypt Your Internet Connection
Once you’ve customized your browser settings, it’s time to move on to more serious privacy tools.
When you visit a website, hover over a link, or log in to your social media account, odds are, that’s been recorded. Telecom and Internet Service Providers have been known to throttle the most innocent of Netflix binges and others are handing browsing histories straight to law enforcement. Internet giants like Google make big money cashing in on your privacy. Even something as innocuous as using your GPS is worth a pretty penny to a local restaurant or airliner. Tracking your movements all the time can be valuable for advertisers, and you’ve likely already seen the proof. Like that one Amazon ad that’s been haunting your web pages for the last week — you know the one. In order to avoid digital detection, you need to get one step ahead of sneaky, malicious coding.
As the name suggests, a VPN is the virtual version of a secure, physical network—a group of computers interconnected in order to share resources. In short, a VPN can encrypt your entire Internet connection, whether it be a Wi-Fi network or 3G mobile data. The encryption process scrambles your data, rendering the contents indecipherable to third parties. A VPN provides many benefits in addition to online privacy and security, such as:
- Eliminating hacking and cybercrime while connected to public Wi-Fi
- Preventing location-based targeting from marketers
- Stopping your Internet Service Provider from spying & throttling your connection
- Bypassing geo-blocks for streaming services (i.e. Netflix, Hulu, etc.)
- Supplying shared IP address, making it impossible to distinguish singular activity
- Keeping the sender, recipient and message itself safe from online tracking
4. Use a Burner Email
Your email address holds a lot of information about you. For some, their primary email address is their name, while others may use something more seemingly obscure like a pet or occupation. Like passwords, people create their email address with simplicity and memorability in mind, and like easy passwords, easy email addresses are more likely to be cracked wide open.
Just as a burner phone is known for being a contract-free device with a limited usage time, a burner email is an email address that, at the stroke of midnight, is set to turn into a pumpkin. There are plenty of reasons to use a temporary email address, from avoiding marketing and phishing scams to separating commercial email from personal email. Burner email addresses come in handy when you’re signing up for a newsletter or online retailer, and they offer an untraceable layer of security should one of those services fall victim to a data breach. Plus, after using a burner email like Slippery and Temp Mail, your inbox will become much cleaner over time — that’s a definite win.
While these 4 essentials are by no means the be-all and end-all of Internet privacy, they are leaps and bounds ahead of the default. Cyber security is a continually evolving realm, so remaining well-informed will be the key to maintaining privacy protection. The sad fact is that total online anonymity is nearly impossible to ensure unless you are sequestered from the World Wide Web. While you may not have anything to hide, per se, what you browse online is entirely your business, and your business alone. So, will you continue to allow these Internet giants to creep on your every click, or will you take back the online privacy that is rightfully yours?