Tech Hacks: How to Stay Invisible Online

With an estimated 200 billion online devices by 2020 and tightening internet surveillance laws worldwide, virtually every aspect of our digital lives is likely to be documented. But retaining your privacy has become far more than a mere matter of principle. Last year, $16.8 billion was stolen through cybercrime in the United States alone. In addition, 30% of US consumers were notified of a data breach. This step-by-step guide covers how to reduce your internet footprint and help keep your personal information under wraps.
Billions of people use the internet, but only a fraction of them show any real concern about limiting their digital footprint: the accumulation of personal and behavioral data across networks, websites, and devices. As our homes, too, become fully digitized, everything we do has the potential to leak out to the public in the form of ‘cookies’ and other files, whether they be recordings of what we’ve said to Amazon Echo (or in its presence) or the items we keep in our fridge.

But in the meantime, most of us can do a lot more to minimize what we broadcast to corporations – and, potentially, the public – by taking the time to tidy up our preferences, and making smarter decisions about how we log on and behave online.

Tightening up security in this way isn’t just about preventing creepy ads that seem to know what you’ve been talking about, or making sure your private affairs don’t go public. It also counters a major security risk: identity theft and cybercrime. The latter is a $17bn dollar industry in the US alone, which bounty is only going to encourage more crooks to get involved.

So what can you do about it? What are these preferences you need to adjust?

Privacy modes

A certain amount of two-way traffic between yourself and the websites you use is often desirable, in order to personalize your experience. Things like remaining logged into websites, or having a site greet you with the appropriate pronouns, rely on ‘cookies’ that communicate between your browser and the remote network. That’s why, when you delete your history, all your active logins shut down too.

But there are many occasions when you don’t want to leave a cookie trail, or risk forgetting to delete your history when there’s a chance your boss or partner might find it. What’s more, if your regular browser is logged into Google, Facebook etc. you will often start to see ads related to other websites that you’ve visited or searches you’ve made. To avoid all this, you can start with the ‘clean slate’ of a privacy mode.

Privacy mode, also known as Incognito (Google Chrome), Private Window (Firefox), or InPrivate Browsing (Explorer), is a fresh window that has no prior history or cookies attached and which will delete all the browser data from your present session when you close it down. That means Google doesn’t know it’s “you” surfing those websites unless you log into Gmail, YouTube, or other Google sites in that private browser. And when you shut that window down, if someone re-opens it they won’t be able to see where you’ve been or log into your accounts. But do beware: information you enter into websites in this mode, and files you download, may not be wiped.

To access these privacy modes, it’s usually as simple as navigating to the File menu at the top of your browser. Underneath ‘New Window’ (or similar) will be an option for ‘New Incognito Window’ or whatever your chosen browser calls this function. If not, you can usually access it via the browser’s settings button.

Privacy on specific websites

Privacy mode is a very useful tool, but it can be overkill in your general day-to-day routine. Sometimes it makes more sense just to be more cautious as you go along.

For example, on Chrome it’s possible to check for warnings on a site’s security status in the web address bar. On the left, you’ll see a padlock, an info icon, or a ‘danger’ icon. Click on this to release a drop-down window with more information about the site, what’s safe to do there, and what cookies it’s using. You can then click Cookies or Settings to adjust the permissions that you’re giving that site. Similar windows and options exist for Firefox and Explorer, it’s just that you have to click through the menus a bit further to reach them.

Also Read: How Much is Your Digital Data Worth?

Privacy on your smartphone

Smartphone usage is second nature these days, so that we complete searches, functions, and communication on our devices without thinking twice about proprietary issues. But Google – which owns Android – and Apple both use their mobile operating systems to profile you and boost advertising revenue.

The iPhone’s browser is called Safari, and it’s possible to improve your privacy by going to your phone’s Settings app and tapping Privacy, and then Advertising. You can then tap the button to ‘Limit Ad Tracking.’

It’s a similar process on an Android phone. Hit Settings, then Google, then Ads, and swipe the button to ‘Opt out of Ads Personalization.’ It can also be a smart idea, on an Android phone, to prevent Google from backing up your device (call history, apps, and Wi-Fi networks), although some for some people the importance of having this stuff backed up will outweigh the worry about storing it on Google’s servers.

Sounds helpful? For more clarification on how to make these changes and further ideas about improvements you can make, work your way through this new visual guide from CashNetUSA.

Internet Hacks: How to Stay Invisible Online - infographic

Read Next: How to Stay Anonymous Online in 2018 (infographic).
Previous Post Next Post