Some techniques used to help keep your privacy

Before we dive into different ways to protect your privacy when surfing the web, we should talk about some of the popular ways that you are being tracked.

  1. Simple IP Address analysis

This is a unique identifier that tells the websites who you are and where you are.  You can think of this like your digital equivalent of a postal address.  These IP addresses are connected to geographical locations.  These geographical locations are typically a broad region (like the city).  GEOLocation uses this information to block users from certain countries.

  1. Tracking cookies

This technique is used to send information to a central repository, where they can collect the information and fine-tune targeted advertising.  It does not only collect information about what sites you have visited but can also collect information on previous purchases.

  1. HTTP referral

This method helps build a detailed picture of your online presence.  It allows external observers to see who is using websites and how they are using them. Basically, it tells where you are coming from.

  1. Tracking pixels or web beacons

You can’t see tracking pixels, but they are transmitting information about how you behave online.  If you load a website featuring a tracking pixel, they can receive information about you.  This could include your operating system, device type, browser, IP address and more.

  1. Browser user agents and fingerprinting

Web browsers are also used as a way to track online activity.  When you log onto a website using a browser, it sends information about your browser version, what OS you are using, and additional information.   Sites can also ascertain the plugins that you installed, whether you have ad-blocking or cookies enabled, and much more information.

As we know, Privacy has become a concern for many users when surfing the internet.  To help keep your privacy and data secure, users will have to combine different programs, techniques and tools to mitigate online tracking.

Virtual private networks (VPN) were designed to help protect your privacy and anonymity when surfing the net.  VPNs can be used to hide your IP address and encrypt data, to help prevent prying eyes and keep your data secure.  VPN’s alone are not enough to prevent users from being tracked.  VPN’s cannot protect users from websites that set a tracking cookie which provides information about user to other sources.  Some VPNs can also leak data and keep online activity logs, so you will want to review some VPN providers to ensure your information is protected.

Many web browsers have been developed over the years and some focus on user’s privacy more than others.  Here we will talk about Brave, Chrome incognito mode, Tor browser, DuckDuckGo chrome extension and mobile app.

Brave has become a popular web browser of choice for many users due to their aggressive anti-ad attitude.  Brave does two things really well.  It prevents third-party tracking cookies and it replacing ads with safer and less intrusive.  Basically, Brave new ad and tracking free browser features will block outside online ads and ad tracking and replaced them with their own.  Brave advertising ads are not aimed at individual users but a collection of anonymous aggregated of browser’s user base. This helps keep your privacy intact.  Brave has a wide range security setting that can be tweaked, depending on your concerns and how you need to balance privacy versus convenience.  Brave also had a protection to help prevent from fingerprinting. It is called Device Recognition, and there are three modes to select.  The default mode only permits first-party attempts at finger printing. It is called “Cross-site device recognition”.  The next level is called “Device recognition blocked.” It will stop all attempts at fingerprinting and could cause problems with some sites. The last setting that is called “All device recognition attempts allowed” means exactly what it says.  Allows everything through.

Another popular web browser out there is called Chrome.  By default Chrome stores the URLS of pages that you visit, and other information.  Chrome also has some browsing modes that you can use to improve your browsing experience. Privacy practices are different depending on the mode that is being used.

Chrome Basic Brower mode stores browsing history information, personal information and passwords to help fill out form and sign into websites, IP address, cookies or data from websites that were visited. Data saved by add-ons and a record of what you download from websites.  Google “Incognito Mode” is an attempt to keep your online privacy.  Incognito mode was designed to remove any local data during the web browsing session.  That means any cookies a site tries to upload to your computer are blocked and deleted, browsing history is not recorded and other various trackers, temporary files and third-party add-ons are disabled.  With that being said, using Incognito mode does not make you invisible to the sites that you visit.  It does not hide your IP address and there are some websites that can test to see if you are using Incognito Mode when they are visited.

Some people believe Tor is a completely anonymous, private and a secure way to access the Internet and keep your privacy. For the most part this is correct until you leave the Tor network.  Most Tor traffic will eventually emerge from the Tor network.  For example, if you connect to Google using Tor – your traffic is passed through several Tor relays, has slower speeds and when it leaves the Tor network you connect to the Internet, which can be monitored.  Traffic that exits the Tor network is known as an “exit node” or “exit relay”.  Exit nodes can potentially monitor your Internet activity, keeping traffic of the searches, websites and messages you send unless if you are using HTTPs or encrypt traffic leaving the tor network.

Epic is also known to decreased the amount of information the browser spills to the outside world.  EPIC deletes all traces of browsing history like other browsers do running under “Incognito Mode” and “Private Browsing”.  When you close EPIC all cookies, browser history and all contents of the browser’s cache will be deleted.  Epic comes with its own Proxy/VPN which will prevent sites, services and online apps from recording your location by masking your IP address.  This setting will need to be manually turned on. Epic does not stop there.  They block all ad as well as host of ad trackers, and other tracking techniques that follow users’ activities.   Epic is based on Chrome, so there is no guarantee, that Google won’t collect information from Epic.  One downside to EPIC is that it blocks almost all browser add-ons since they can represent some security and privacy risk.

I would recommend reading the FAQ and disclaimers on all web browser, third party add-ons, VPN, and any other software that you would use to connect to the internet. This will help you better understand what information is or can be collected.  Please understand that third party apps or add-ons on any browser have the potential to compromise your information.

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