Internet Privacy

Privacy on the internet is a hot topic nowadays and rightly so. The more connected our lives have become to the internet the more privacy we have given up. In fact, I think the term internet privacy is kind of an oxymoron. Anything you do or put on the web can go public forever. But knowledge is power so let us take a look at some ways to help keep your online privacy.

HTTPS and Encryption

One of the easiest things to check when online is to make sure the webpage you are on is on an encrypted connection. Otherwise, anything you submit or send to that page can be picked up and looked at by anyone on the same wifi network or along the way down the internet pipes.

To do this you can just look at the address bar on most web browsers. You should see the website address start with “https”, see some kind of lock icon or maybe both depending on the browser.

But sometimes even if you are connected to a secure connection that does not mean your privacy is safe. The website itself could be a problem. Take Facebook for example. They gather tons of data on people then use that data to target ads and sell that data to others to do whatever they want to with it. This leads to my next point.

Social media usage

Be careful what information you put on social media. I think most people have no clue how much a stranger can learn about them by piecing together all the things that are posted on social media. I have heard lots of stories over the years on how this data can be used against you. For example, someone coming to rob your house when they see on social media that you are out of town on vacation. I can imagine the information being used for much worse things as well.

Twitter BotOn top of that, the social media networks themselves also use and sell that data.¬†Companys like Facebook already know a ton about billions of people.¬†Recently we also found out Facebook wants it’s users banking records. Remember if the service you are using is free then most likely you are the product being sold.

Search Engine Privacy

Search engines are another place where you may not think about privacy. But Google and Bing record and save every search that we put into them and they attempt to build profiles on users. But you could always mix it up. Don’t use the same search engine all the time or use a search engine dedicated to privacy like DuckDuckGo or StartPage.

If you want to know more about search engine privacy then check out this page called “Why should I use DuckDuckGo instead of Google?“.

DNS Privacy

Another thing people do not think about is their DNS server. Your computer or device ask a DNS server about the address of almost everything it connects to. All these requests can be logged and every site you visit can be seen by the DNS owner. But there are better and more private DNS options out there like the Cloudflare DNS service.

Understand the Terms of Service

Reading the terms of service would help you understand what services are doing with your data but we all know nobody reads them. A lot of them would take over an hour to read. Here is a visual example at how long a user agreement can be.

User Agreements

User Agreements. Photo: Dima Yarovinsky

Encrypt your e-mail

Free e-mail services have been known to scan e-mail contents that are sent and received on their servers. But you could use something like OpenPGP to encrypt your e-mail text. But OpenPGP is not always the most user friendly thing. On top of that the person on the other end also has to have the software. So it may be easier to just find a more trusted e-mail provider.

In Closing

A lot of this stuff by itself is harmless but when someone takes the time to connect the dots then all the sudden they can know a whole lot about you. For example, the DNS logging itself may not be a big deal. But if your DNS is Google and you are using the Googles search engine and services such as there Cell phone network. Then all the sudden they can link your DNS records with your search history and real name. After that, they could, in theory, build a profile on your likes, dislikes, who you know and talk to. Your habits based on GPS records on your google phone. Just use your imagination. I am not saying Google is doing this. I have no clue. But I just wanted to give an idea of what could be done if someone did mine all this data on you.

So in short nothing you do online is truly private for long. You can protect yourself a little but always be careful what you do and put online.


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