Do you remember that old quote, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you?” It seems like it is becoming more and more relevant every day. Almost weekly, a new scandal emerges from Big Tech, detailing the wholesale trading and theft of our personal information. But aside from all the headline-grabbing, one-off incidents, the much bigger concern is the day to day invasions of our privacy that are just standard policy for many of these companies.
In fact, it’s how they make most of their money.
Add to this the ever increasing and complex systems of government surveillance and tracking (most of which we’ll probably never really learn about), and you can be forgiven for feeling like you’re being watched every second you’re online.
Fortunately, there are plenty of people who feel the same. Many are finding ways and creating tools to help all of us stay safe and maintain our privacy while using the internet. The quick, simple steps that follow will block you from the most invasive spying and tracking on the internet, boost your privacy, and keep you safe.
1. Purge your Facebook
There may be no other organization that has become more notorious with invasions of privacy as quickly as Facebook. In just a couple of years, Mark Zuckerberg and his company seem to have completely fallen from grace in the eyes of many politicians, security experts and, indeed, users. They have been (justifiably?) blamed for stoking genocide in Myanmar, Brexit, numerous mental health crises, and even destroying the foundations of human society.
These examples may seem extreme, but there is no denying that Facebook has capitalized on the monetization and manipulation of their customers’ personal data like no other company operating today. The most simple step you can take to avoid Facebook’s reach is to delete your account (Instagram too, which Facebook own). If this isn’t possible, there are few ways to reduce its impact on your internet browsing. Here are a few browser extensions that will quickly limit many of the platform’s tools for tracking your activity and boost your privacy.
2. Use Tor Browser
While Google claims that incognito mode will keep your browsing activity and identity private, it is still part of the Google ecosystem – so you can never be completely sure. You might want to try alternatives to Google Chrome, Safari, and their competitors by using the Tor Browser. Tor is a web browser dedicated to maximum online privacy. Using 3 layers of encryption, Tor completely masks your identity by anonymizing your location, browser, and activity and batching it all together with every other Tor user. So essentially, you become lost in the virtual crowd. This also means that the more popular Tor grows, the more effective it is at hiding you.
Tor is one of the most popular tools amongst online activists, journalists, political dissidents in repressive governments, and security experts. Follow their lead and start using it today.
For ultimate online privacy, combine Tor with a VPN.
3. Use a VPN based outside of the 14 eyes
Installing a VPN (Virtual Private Network) on your devices is by far the easiest and most effective step to take if you want to increase your online privacy. You can’t be spied on if they can’t find you – and that’s where a VPN comes in handy. A VPN uses military grade encryption, IP masking and other tools to hide your online activity while on both private and public networks. This helps keep your location hidden, your data safe from leaking or theft, and your browsing activity secret from corporate and governmental tracking.
To go a step further, make sure that your VPN provider is outside the jurisdictions of the 14 Eyes surveillance alliance.
4. Try to avoid using Smart Home Products
It’s actually quite surprising that the recent story about 1,000s of Amazon employees listening to customers through their Alexa devices didn’t receive greater news coverage. Maybe it just shows how desensitized we’ve all become to such stories. It also shouldn’t be too surprising to anybody concerned with online privacy. Since the earliest days of smart home devices, security experts have been warning us about the ease with which they can be hacked and used to spy on households. Companies like Amazon may only be listening in for marketing purposes, but plenty of criminals are using them to track your routines and steal your identity.
The most effective way to be sure nobody is spying on you in your own home, through your smart devices, is to avoid using them altogether.
5. Start using Cryptocurrency for Payments
If you can ignore all the hype and noise around Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies’ rollercoaster prices, and focus instead on its core principles and uses, you’ll understand how it is a great tool for online financial privacy. Aside from companies tracking your online purchases and using this to manipulate you into buying more stuff, online financial fraud is one of the biggest, ever-present aspects of using the internet. From the very first online transactions, conmen, fraudsters, and thieves have been finding ways to extract money from your bank accounts and credit cards.
One way to shield yourself from this happening is to separate your online transactions from your bank accounts. This is one of the many uses of Cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. Despite what many people will tell you, Bitcoin is not 100% anonymous. However, by using a Bitcoin address to pay for online goods and services, and taking extra measures like shuffling your purchases amongst multiple bitcoin addresses, you can add a layer of privacy to your online transactions not possible with traditional banks and credit cards.
It can sometimes feel like maintaining privacy while using the internet is a crazy, unrealistic dream. This doesn’t have to be the case, however. By taking the simple, quick steps outlined here, you can easily boost not just your online privacy, but also safety from hacks, data leaks, and other forms of cybercrime. Using the internet will feel a lot less like you’re under siege from advertisers, governments and other shady figures, and free to browse in complete anonymity.