In the past year, the Internet has changed. It is not as friendly as it once was. It has become a battleground that is threatening all of its users, and the companies that do business here. Worse, many rules we used to live by to protect ourselves, no longer apply.
There is a lot to write about here, and plenty of topics to cover, the links in the last paragraph all lead to really good articles about NEW issues and challenges facing the Internet today, and I recommend reading them.
But I am not covering those topics in this post. Instead, I decided to start with the one that is on everybody’s minds thanks to an amazing piece of stupid legislation here in the US: PRIVACY!
There is absolutely no reason to give Internet Service Providers (ISP) like AT&T and Comcast the right to sell users browsing history. First of all, They are a self enforced monopolies that charge way too much for access already and don’t deserve other revenue streams. Second, the selling of your browsing habits is already a major industry worth billions of dollars a year. It is basically the primary revenue stream of both Google and Facebook, as they use user searching and liking data to sell targeted advertising. Third, they still cannot sell browsing history of individuals, or history that can be tied to an individual, so all they can really sell is bulk group data which is useless, see reason 2.
I’m pretty sick of it, and I hope you are, too, because I am going to present some ways to stick it to the data brokers, especially the ISPs as they are the ones that bought and paid for the Republican Congress to pass the legislation.
Keep in mind that sniffer software, spyware which looks at the streams of data that is coming from your computer, is becoming more common as a hacking tool, sticking it to the ISP’s is also sticking it to spyware. So even if you think you have nothing to worry about with your ISP, it doesn’t hurt to protect yourself from others listening in looking for passwords and answers to security questions.
1. Use HTTPS Everywhere Cost: free, effectiveness in privacy protection: high, technical know how to implement: easy.
How it works: Your ISP doesn’t have ANYTHING that you do on a secure HTTPS web page. They only know which websites you visit, but not what you do on them. Once you have connected to an HTTPS server, your connection is encrypted, and only you and the website will know what you are doing.
This is why more and more websites are converting to https, this is why arianeb.com is now https.
Note: Some unprotected websites will not work with this browser plug in. These are probably the websites you want to avoid, but if you must, you can always temporarily disable it.
2. Use a 3rd party DNS server Cost: free, effectiveness in privacy protection: some, technical know how to implement: medium to high.
Domain Name Servers or DNS are computer servers that translate yahoo.com into “126.96.36.199” which is the actual internet address of yahoo.com. 97% of the users use DNS servers controlled by their ISP. This is how ISP’s know which websites you are visiting, so by using a 3rd party DNS, you are making it a lot harder for them to get that information. This however does not stop spyware from knowing where you are going.
Using a 3rd party DNS server requires some technical know how of getting in your router and changing some settings. Yes, it is doable even on routers provided by ISP’s, but it may require some digging into the settings. Chances are the ISP support staff will not be helpful. (I highly recommend learning the best way to factory reset your router first, in case you screw up badly.)
Those two combined are pretty effective, but for real browser privacy:
3. Use a VPN service! Cost: free to reasonable priced for individuals, effectiveness in privacy protection: very high, technical know how to implement: easy to medium.
Virtual Private Networks are like mini internet services. Practically every business with more than 2 computers probably have their own VPN, and if you work from home you probably connect to work via VPN. VPN for personal computers, phones, and tablets are practically non existent as there has been very little reason to use them. But with the need for privacy solutions increasing, VPN may be the answer.
The biggest source of protection VPN’s offer is hiding your IP address. Websites like this one can track your location sometimes within a few feet if you have an unprotected IP address. The truth is EVERY website can track your location the same way.
With a VPN service, you share an IP address with everyone else on the VPN so you are impossible to track, and the location data will be that of the VPN server which can be located in a different state, different country, or on the other side of the planet. There are hundreds of VPNs to choose from, though if that list is intimidating, here is a list of the more popular ones reviewed by PC Mag.
This of course will mess with many websites that rely on location data. I now use a VPN and can locate my IP address in any of over 30 countries. Switching my VPN to Mexico and going to Google gives me Spanish language Google based out of Colombia. Switching to Canada lets me watch Space TV, where many of my favorite sci-fi shows air before they get to America. If VPN’s become commonplace, it could ruin the business models of most of the major internet sites, which makes me fearful that other countries could follow China’s lead.
I recommend staying away from FREE VPN servers as they tend to slow your internet service and limit your bandwidth. If you are serious about privacy and security spend a little money. Some offer additional bonuses like server based ad blocking that cannot be detected by websites. They cannot block site based ads, but they kill the notoriously bad ones.
4. Use STARTPAGE as your search engine. Cost: free, effectiveness in privacy protection: keeps your search history out of the hands of Google while simultaneously using Google, technical know how to implement: easy if you use Firefox, more difficult if you use Chrome (which insists on real Google) or Edge (which insists on Bing)
Ixquick is a search engine company based out of Netherlands. Their search engine gives the same results as Google because they use Google to provide the results (yes Google is aware of this and there are contracts involved), BUT they cut off your searches from actually reaching Google where they can track you and push targeted ads at you. It’s a very nice loophole, it is sort of the search engine equivalent of a VPN.
5. If you need Facebook on your phone, use mbasic.facebook.com in the browser. Cost: free, effectiveness in privacy protection: its still Facebook, but its not always running in the background watching your every move, technical know how to implement: fairly easy but unfortunately not as easy as just using the app.
The majority of the people use the Facebook app on their phone to get on Facebook. It is probably the biggest piece of spyware known to exist, and definitely the most distributed. If you want real privacy, don’t even use it. A bare bones interface to Facebook can be found at mbasic.facebook.com. It is designed for older phones that can’t handle the latest html standards, or lack memory for cookies, etc.
Another important privacy tip if you are using Facebook: NEVER “COPY AND PASTE”, ALWAYS SHARE! More and more viral posts ask you to “copy and paste” into your status instead of share because it supposedly makes you harder to track, but guess what, it is the opposite! Data brokers can search for key words and find who copied and pasted a post, thus making it easier to categorize people and sort them for advertisers. Sharing is much safer and shared posts can be deleted if they turn out to be false.
Of course if you REALLY are serious about privacy, stay the hell off Facebook.
6. Close your Yahoo! account. No Really! Their security record is abysmal. They have been hacked 3 times in the last 4 years and waited months to report it to users, leaving their accounts vulnerable. Here’s how!
Since Congress passed the anti-privacy bill, I have done most of these. It hasn’t slowed my internet down and I haven’t been blocked from doing what I want online.
The Power of Privacy