Thanks to incredible advancements in technology, it is possible for anyone to upload the most intimate and personal details of their life to the internet with just a few clicks of a button. While this convenience makes it possible to shop online, browse endlessly, and share the details of one’s life with family members and friends, it also makes it possible for subversive individuals to gain access to the personal data of countless web surfers without their knowledge. The ability to glean endless information regarding a person’s search history, online preferences, and even classified information from the internet leaves many people wondering if it is possible to remain anonymous and still be on the web.
Who Wants Your Information?
There is always going to be someone out there who can benefit from finding and exploiting unprotected personal information on the internet, including:
- Identity thieves
- Major search engines
- Social media sites
- Government agencies
Even so-called “privacy policies” can be circumvented by technology-savvy individuals who have the desire to do so. With the odds stacked against you, how do you keep yourself and your information anonymous while surfing the web? Is it even possible to do so, or is privacy truly dead for the average citizen?
According to a 2013 Pew Study, more than half of Americans have completely given up on the idea of online privacy completely, but they still continue to surf the web on a daily basis. It seems that the only way to remain completely anonymous on the web is to stay away from the internet completely. However, this is simply not a practical solution for most people, so here are a few other ways to protect your identity on the web.
1. Set Up a Firewall
Think of your computer as a mansion full of valuable stuff that other people want, and think of your firewall as a giant fence that keeps unwanted individuals out. Antivirus programs can be related to cameras that detect and deter individuals who are desperate enough to climb over your fence or try and find another way to get to your valuable stuff. If you don’t have firewall software on your computer, you are leaving yourself open and vulnerable to crooks, hackers, and even government agencies. You can try your luck with standard firewall software that comes along with Windows 7/8, or you could beef up your security with a third-party firewall package. There are also some very decent firewall packages that are completely free if you are concerned about shelling out too much money.
2. Know How Much Information You Are Giving Away
It is pretty hard to protect your online identity from vulnerabilities if you have no idea how much information you are giving away each time you get on the internet. One great way to find out how much you reveal about yourself from your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer is by using a program such as Stay Invisible. This program analyzes your electronic device and sends you a full report detailing the information you send to third parties when you surf the web. Many people are unaware that their electronic devices send some or all of the following information each time they visit a website:
- IP address
- Approximate physical location
- Time zone
- Preferred language
- Browser type
- Operating system
- Browser plug-ins
This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the massive amounts of information you share with social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Both sites store massive amounts of data and metadata on each person who has a profile with them.
3. Social Media
Social media has become an incredible avenue for people to share the events of their lives with friends and family members who are located throughout the world. It is also a great way for businesses to advertise their products and services in order to gain a larger customer base. However, it can also be used for some very sordid purposes, such as providing world-wide governments with access to the highly personal lives of thousands of Facebook users.
In 2013, Facebook received demands from various government agencies to reveal information about approximately 38,000 Facebook profile holders. The United States Government was responsible for more than half of those demands. Facebook has recently been under fire for providing data on its users in response to approximately 60% of demands or requests directly from the NSA. The popular social media site has also given the Turkish government profile information for 45 users whom the Turkish government deemed to be a threat.
While much can be done to limit your visibility to third parties by putting the tightest restrictions on your Facebook privacy settings or by using a pseudonym, the only way to completely remain anonymous and protect your identity is by opting not to use social media altogether.
4. Limit the Gathering of Your Search History and Preferences
If you can’t bring yourself to delete all of your social media accounts, you should at least make sure that your personal information, search history, and preferences cannot be easily gathered by social media sites such as Facebook. Disable cookies, never save your history, and use a separate browser for all of your social media purposes.
5. Use a Virtual Private Network
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a powerful encryption tool that allows you to protect your online identity. This type of network is especially imperative to use if you do a lot of web surfing from public locations like libraries or coffee shops.
6. Download TOR
TOR is a free app that is intended to offer protection from online surveillance. By utilizing a complicated and encrypted set of data tunnels, the app helps to hide your location while you surf the web and publish online content.
While it is true that the only way to stay completely anonymous online is by keeping off of the internet completely, you can do much to protect your online identity from the NSA and others by setting up a firewall, being aware of how your data can be used against you, using pseudonyms, tightening your privacy settings as much as possible, and utilizing a VPN as well as TOR apps.
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