Saturday, 26 October 2013

Internet Privacy: Some tips

It is no secret that there is big money to be made in your privacy. Companies will pay big bucks to learn more about you, and service providers on the web are eager to get their hands on as much information about you as possible. So what do you do? How do you keep your information out of everyone else's hands? Here is a guide to surfing the web while keeping your privacy intact. The adage goes, "If you are not paying for a service, you are the product, not the customer," and it is never been more true. Every day more news breaks about a new company that uploads your address book to their servers, skirts in-browser privacy protection, and tracks your every move on the web to learn as much about your browsing habits and activities as possible. In this post, I will explain why you should care, and help you lock down your surfing so you can browse in peace.

Why You Should Care
Your personal information is valuable. More valuable than you might think, "So what if they track me? I'm not that important/I have nothing to hide/they just want to target ads to me and I'd rather have targeted ads over useless ones!"
The real money is in taking your data and shacking up with third parties to help them come up with new ways to convince you to spend money, sign up for services, and give up more information. Relevant ads are nice, but the real value in your data exists where you won't see it until you are too tempted by the offer to know where it came from, whether it is a coupon in your mailbox or a new daily deal site with incredible bargains tailored to your desires. It all sounds good until you realize the only thing you have to trade for such "exciting" bargains is everything personal about you: your age, income, family's ages and income, medical history, dietary habits, favourite web sites, your birthday...the list goes on. It would be fine if you decided to give up this information for a tangible benefit, but you may never see a benefit aside from an ad, and no one's including you in the decision.

How to Stop Trackers from Following
There are many add-ons for Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari and/or Opera that you can use here is a small list:
  • Adblock Plus -  Adblock Plus blocks annoying ads on the web. It can block other things, like tracking, as well. With million of users, it is the world's most popular browser extension. Adblock Plus itself has no functionality, in the sense that it does not block anything until it is "told" what to do by its filter lists. These filter lists are essentially an extensive set of rules, which tell Adblock Plus which elements of websites to block. Besides blocking advertisements, filter lists can also be used to block tracking and malware. For extra protection, one-click installs the Antisocial subscription for AdBlock. With it, you can banish social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ from transmitting data about you after you leave those sites, even if the page you visit has a social plugin on it.
  • Ghostery - Ghostery does an excellent job at blocking the invisible tracking cookies and plug-ins on many web sites, showing it all to you, and then giving you the choice whether you want to block them one-by-one, or all together so you will never worry about them again. The best part about Ghostery is that it's not just limited to social networks, but will also catch and show you ad-networks and web publishers as well. Yet some of those who advocate Ghostery as a way to escape the clutches of the online ad industry may not realize that the company behind it, Evidon, is in fact part of that selfsame industry. Evidon helps companies that want to improve their use of tracking code by selling them data collected from the eight million Ghostery users who have enabled a data-sharing feature in the tool.
  • ScriptNo - ScriptNo is much like Ghostery in that any scripts running on any site you visit will sound its alarms. The difference is that while Ghostery is a bit more exclusive about the types of information it alerts you to, ScriptNo will sound the alarm at just about everything, which will break a ton of websites. You will visit the site, half of it won't load or work, and you will have to selectively enable scripts until it's usable. Still, its intuitive interface will help you choose which scripts on a page you would like to allow and which you would like to block without sacrificing the actual content on the page you would like to read.
  • Lightbeam a the Firefox add-on that provides a real-time visualization of every first- and third-party application that is active on websites a user visits. Mozilla Lightbeam will also show users the relationship between all those parties, which Mozilla hopes will give users a better understanding of online-data tracking. Mozilla also allows users to contribute data from their Lightbeam database to help build a more macro-level visualization of the connection between first- and third-party websites.
  • Do Not Track Plus - The "Do Not Track" feature that most browsers have is useful, but if you want to beef them up, the previously mentioned Do Not Track Plus extension puts a stop to third-party data exchanges, like when you visit a site like ours that has Facebook and Google+ buttons on it. By default, your browser will tell the network that you're on a site with those buttons—with the extension installed, no information is sent until you choose to click one. Think of it as opt-in social sharing, instead of all-in.
  • Disconnect (Firefox/Chrome/IE/Safari) is a good pick because it continues to add useful features and improve its database, and its secure Wi-Fi and bandwidth optimization features are not available in other tools. It blocks third party tracking cookies and gives you control over all site scripts and elements from a simple-to-use toolbar menu. It also protects you from tracking by social networks like Facebook, Google, and Twitter, which use your browsing even off-site to collect data about you. Finally, Disconnect protects you from sidejacking (or widgetjacking), where an attacker can use stolen cookies to access personal data without having to know your password, with its Secure Wi-Fi feature. 

Additional Privacy Tools You Should Have
In addition to privacy protecting tools and ad blockers, a few other add-ons, utilities, and services came up while we were researching this piece that you should not roam the web without.
  • HTTPS Everywhere (Firefox/Chrome) is a must-have regardless of what other security tools you opt to use. Once installed, the extension will shunt your connection to SSL whenever possible, and will try to find secure versions of the sites you visit. It's a great way to protect your browsing without really lifting a finger. It can break some sites that were not meant to work with HTTPS though, so you may have to white-list sites from time to time if the secure version does not work.
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts all of your internet traffic and offers the most possible protection from prying eyes. Look for a provider that keeps only the minimum required logs for troubleshooting purposes, offers strong encryption, is well regarded by its users, and offers multiple exits locations. Contrary to common belief, do not just spring for any offshore VPN—just because your VPN provider is in a far-off country does not mean it's secure, or at all private.
  • Antivirus and Antimalware utilities are essential to protecting security. It may sound like "How to Internet: 101," but taking care to avoid suspicious sites, practice good internet hygiene (eg, not opening suspicious attachments, checking file names before you download, etc), and keep updated antivirus and antimalware tools on your PC is important. Often the term "privacy" is couched in terms of advertising and marketing, but the risk of identity theft and getting infected with ransomware is growing. 


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Blog Editor and Owner: Luis Aparicio Fernandes (or Mikey) is a Business Expert and a Traveler based in Sydney, Australia. He is a member of The International Honor Society Beta Gamma Sigma due to his achievements in business. You can follow Luis on Google+, and LinkedIn.