How to increase your online privacy

As we navigate through countless websites, apps, and social media platforms, the digital footprints we leave behind can offer keen observers a detailed glimpse into our personal lives. But should convenience come at the cost of our privacy? Fortunately, it doesn’t have to.

This article will explain how to increase your online privacy.

This comprehensive guide will explain everything you need to know. Aimed at helping you reclaim control over your personal information in the vast landscape of the internet. Whether you’re a casual surfer or a digital native, the tools and strategies shared in this article will empower you to browse with confidence and peace of mind.

Do websites track you?

Websites track your online privacy in a number of ways:

  1. Cookies: These are small files that websites put on your computer or mobile device. They help sites remember things like your login details or what’s in your shopping cart. But some cookies can also record the sites you visit or the ads you click on.
  2. IP Address: Every device connected to the internet has an IP address. It’s like a home address for your computer or phone. Websites can see this address and might use it to guess where you’re located.
  3. Web Beacons: These are tiny, invisible images on a webpage or email. When you open a page or an email that has a web beacon, it sends info back to the website about your activity.
  4. Fingerprinting: This is a bit more complex. Websites can gather details about the type of device you use, your screen size, the fonts you have, and even the software versions you run. By looking at this mix of details, they can work out a “fingerprint” that’s often unique to your device.
  5. Third-party Trackers: Some websites allow other companies to put trackers on their pages. So, when you visit that site, these companies can also see what you do.
  6. Login Information: If you log into a website, they’ll know when you visit and what you do there, since you’re signed in under your profile.
  7. Social Media Plugins: Ever seen a “Like” button for a social media site on a different website? These buttons can send info back to the social media company about the sites you visit.

How to increase your online privacy

There’s a number of ways to increase your online privacy when going online:

  1. Use Data Broker Removal Services: These services help you identify and remove your personal information from various online databases. By doing this, you make it difficult for advertisers, marketers, and malicious actors to find and use your details.
  2. Choose Private Search Engines: Some search engines, like DuckDuckGo, don’t track your searches. This means your search habits remain private.
  3. Update Privacy Settings: Regularly check and update the privacy settings on your social media accounts and other online platforms.
  4. Install Browser Extensions: There are extensions that block trackers, ads, and cookies which might spy on your online activities.
  5. Use VPNs: A VPN hides your actual IP address, making your online actions harder to trace back to you.
  6. Pick Secure Messaging Apps: Apps like Signal encrypt your messages, so only you and the person you’re chatting with can read them.
  7. Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): This adds an extra step to your login process, making your accounts harder to hack.
  8. Strong Passwords: Use different passwords for different sites. Tools like password managers can help.
  9. Be Wary of Phishing: Don’t click on suspicious links, and always double-check website URLs.
  10. Update Regularly: Keep your software and devices updated. Updates often fix security flaws.

What is a data broker removal service?

In simple terms, think of a data broker removal service as a helper who finds and asks websites to take down information about you, so fewer people and companies can buy or see your details without your permission.

A data broker removal service helps individuals protect their personal information on the internet. Data brokers are companies that collect, store, and sell personal information about individuals. This information can include things like your name, address, phone number, email, and even details about your hobbies, shopping habits, and more. They gather this data from various sources, including public records, surveys, and online activity, and then they sell it to other businesses, advertisers, or interested parties.

The role of a data broker removal service is to identify where your personal information might be listed with these data brokers and request its removal. This way, the amount of your personal data circulating online can be reduced, leading to a decrease in unwanted emails, calls, or targeted ads, and a general improvement in your online privacy.

How to increase your online privacy

Do private search engines work?

Yes, private search engines do work. But it’s important to know that private search engines are not the same as incognito mode.

Incognito mode only stops your browser from saving your search history, cookies, and form data. However, it doesn’t hide your online activity from websites, your internet service provider, or your employer. Also, if a website uses tracking methods, they can still gather information about you, even in incognito mode.

A private search engine is designed to find information on the internet without tracking or storing your search history. This means that the things you search for won’t be linked back to you. Regular search engines often track your searches, which can then be used for things like targeted advertising.

Private search engines, like DuckDuckGo, give results without logging your personal details. They don’t store your search terms or sell your information to advertisers. This helps keep your searches away from prying eyes.

However, it’s essential to remember that while your searches may be private, the websites you visit from those searches might still track you. So, it’s always a good idea to use other privacy tools, like VPNs, alongside private search engines for complete online privacy.

What are the best privacy extensions?

These extensions are among the best for bolstering your online privacy. They’re easy to use and effectively keep your data and browsing habits more private.

Privacy Badger: This is a tool from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It stops advertisers and third-party trackers from secretly tracking where you go and what pages you look at on the web. If an advertiser seems to be tracking you across multiple websites, Privacy Badger will automatically block them.

uBlock Origin: This is a versatile ad blocker that does more than just block ads. It also filters out large media elements, stops tracking, and defends against malware. It’s known for being lightweight and doesn’t hog system resources.

HTTPS Everywhere: This extension ensures that you use the HTTPS encrypted version of websites whenever available. It’s a creation from the combined efforts of The Tor Project and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials: It’s not just a search engine. When added as a browser extension, it blocks third-party trackers, forces sites to use encrypted connections where available, and provides a privacy rating for each website you visit.

What is the best VPN for privacy?

With a strong commitment to user privacy, a favourable jurisdiction, and top-tier technical security measures, ExpressVPN stands out as an excellent choice for those prioritising online privacy.

ExpressVPN is often regarded as the best VPN for privacy, and for good reason. Firstly, it operates using a strict “no-logs” policy. This means that ExpressVPN does not keep any record of user activities, ensuring that there is no traceable data connecting a user to their online actions.

Secondly, the company is based in the British Virgin Islands, a jurisdiction known for robust privacy laws. Being outside the “14 Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance, it’s less likely to be subjected to invasive data requests from governments.

Furthermore, ExpressVPN employs advanced encryption standards. Using 256-bit AES encryption, it ensures that your data is securely protected, making it nearly impossible for hackers or any unwanted entities to decipher your online traffic. Additionally, it offers a variety of protocols, allowing users to choose the best balance between speed and security for their needs.

If ExpressVPN doesn’t suit your needs, we also recommend NordVPN. Its vast global network ensures users can always find a reliable connection.

Additionally, NordVPN employs advanced encryption techniques to protect data and upholds a strict no-logs policy, leaving no trace of users’ activities.

An added security measure is its kill switch, which disconnects users if the VPN drops, preventing inadvertent data exposure. All these elements make NordVPN a top choice for privacy-conscious users.

What are the best secure messaging apps?

Signal: This app is widely recognised as one of the most secure messaging apps available. It offers end-to-end encryption, meaning only the sender and receiver can read the messages. No one else, not even Signal, can see them. It’s free and easy to use.

WhatsApp: Owned by Meta, WhatsApp is another popular choice for secure messaging. It uses end-to-end encryption similar to Signal. However, some people have concerns about its parent company and data collection practices.

Telegram: Telegram offers end-to-end encryption for its ‘secret chats’. It’s important to note that you need to specifically choose this option for the added security. Telegram also has features like self-destructing messages which can enhance privacy.

All these apps are available for both Android and iOS. It’s always a good idea to keep them updated to ensure you have the latest security features.

How to be wary of phishing techniques

If you’re worried about phishing techniques, there’s five steps you should take to protect your online privacy:

Check Email Addresses Carefully: When you receive an unexpected email asking for personal details or payments, always check the sender’s email address. It might look similar to a known company’s address but often has small mistakes or odd characters.

Avoid Clicking on Suspicious Links: If an email or message urges you to click on a link, be cautious. Instead of clicking directly, hover over the link to see where it leads. If in doubt, go directly to the company’s official website by typing the address yourself.

Never Give Out Personal Information: Legitimate companies won’t ask for sensitive information like passwords or bank details via email. If you’re asked for these, it’s likely a scam.

Look for Spelling and Grammar Mistakes: Many phishing attempts have poorly written content. If an email has unusual wording or many errors, be sceptical.

Use Two-Factor Authentication: This adds an extra layer of security. Even if someone gets your password, they won’t be able to access your account without the second piece of verification.

Patch Bowen
Patch Bowen is an accomplished technology journalist with a solid academic foundation, holding a degree from Auckland University. His expertise spans across a range of tech topics, with a notable focus on product reviews, industry trends, and the impact of technology on society. With his work featured on major New Zealand websites like Stuff.co.nz, thebit.nz, and The Press, Patch has established himself as a credible voice in technology media. His articles are known for their detailed analysis and practical insights, particularly in making complex technological concepts understandable for a broad audience. At ReviewsFire, Patch is renowned for his thorough evaluations and clear, informative writing style. He has a knack for identifying and explaining the nuances of the latest gadgets and digital trends, earning him a reputation as a trusted source for tech advice and information.

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