Science & Tech, World

Internet Privacy for the Average Citizen

Data laws have been all over the charts. The Senate passed a law three weeks ago stating that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are allowed to sell your browsing data to 3rd party ad agencies. Other countries have entire areas of the web completely blocked from view. How can we maintain internet privacy when the odds are stacked against us, the average citizen?

Citizens deserve a way to get past internet filters, keep their browsing data private, and avoid the scrutiny that is becoming more and more popular. There are three main methods that you can use to keep your data to yourself and get around all of the people who want to watch your internet connection. These methods are private search engines, browsers, and VPNs. Let’s get you internet privacy back on track.

Don’t worry; this isn’t a tech piece; this is something for everyone and I’ve tried to make it as understandable as possible. I hate tech jargon too.

Internet Privacy Requires Private Search Engines

Last week, I was looking for a gaming console for my best friend who is getting married. He loves Nintendo more than anyone I know, so that’s gonna be his wedding present. I looked around for a while on different Google shopping results, and then finally selected one.

I got on Facebook not 10 minutes later, and it was nothing but wall-to-wall ads for the WiiU, the Nintendo Switch… If there was something Facebook could try and sell me that was Nintendo-related, it was plastered on my wall in the Facebook ads.

I am sure you have had an experience like this. Even if you use an ad blocker, sponsored links show your browsing detail in GREAT details, down to the color you originally searched for on Google. I realize this next part is going to sound like an ad too, but…

DuckDuckGo is the best search engine I’ve ever used to protect my internet privacy, personally. It doesn’t log information like Google does, and it’s almost as accurate and returns great results. It’s not as spot on for many results, but that’s because it keeps no records of you at all. It doesn’t log search history, it doesn’t keep any info on you. Every time you open the browser it’s like opening it for the first time. You can add it to any browser, like Google Chrome or Firefox or Safari. You can get it here: Duck Duck Go

VPN: Encrypted Connections for Internet Privacy

This is one of the most complicated things you’ll learn about here, but here goes. A VPN is a Virtual Private Network, which is just an app on your phone or your computer which puts a little internet bubble around your computer, and your internet service provider can’t see what you’re looking at. All they can see is a little stream of encoded data. This means they can’t block sites, they can’t monitor what you’re doing… Nothing. And you can’t block a VPN. It also protects you when you’re entering bank information or other private password details, so that if you’re in a coffee shop or other wifi where there are a lot of people, no one, not even a professional hacker, can spy on you. What tool would be better for internet privacy than a VPN?

I use one all the time; my personal favorite is TunnelBear (no, they didn’t pay me to say that!) but you can find all kinds online. I recommend a paid one, because your VPN provider COULD spy on you if they’re not a reputable company. Choose a VPN that does NOT keep logs, because that means your connection is truly private. Here’s a list of the best VPN services.

Tor: Making Internet Privacy More Private

I’ve saved the most controversial for last! Tor gets a bad name because it is the gateway browser to “The Dark Web,” which is more urban legend than reality when it comes to things that go on there. Sites like Wikileaks got their start on the dark web. Tor is a browser that is (almost) completely anonymous. The developers are constantly looking for people to hack it, so they can fix any breaches people find. I’m not going to explain how it works right now. If you want to learn how Tor works, watch this video, it gives a really good explanation. It is probably the best way to keep internet privacy a private affair.

Tor allows people in very restricted countries to access the whole internet because no one can completely block Tor. Tor websites end in .onion instead of .com. Facebook has a dark web version of its site for countries where Facebook is blocked. If you’re viewing this article in a Tor browser, you can find the .onion version of Facebook at this link: facebookcorewwwi.onion

How to Get Tor

If you can’t download Tor, you can send an email to the developers and they’ll send you a copy via email. Tor is also the primary tool of government leakers, because it cannot be accurately traced by any means we currently have. The browser has been used by criminals, of course, but the good it has done for government whistleblowers and restricted web countries cannot be understated. Tor is the perfect tool for keeping your ISP off your tail; just be sure and read the instructions here to learn how to browse anonymously.

Trust me, there are things you have to do to stay anonymous that I wouldn’t have thought of. For example, did you know good hackers can trace you by your screen size? That’s why Tor runs in a smaller window than your screen; all Tor windows are the same size so they can’t be traced. That’s just one example! You can download Tor for yourself here or by emailing [email protected] in more restricted countries. Hurray for internet privacy.

Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe, Keep it Private

And those are your basic internet safety tools that are the ultimate key to internet privacy! Please tweet me @smithcalebm if you have any questions about how any of these services work, and I’d be happy to help you out. As always, fight the power and keep your internet safe and private!

About Caleb Smith

Caleb is a freelance writer and music student from the United States, with a passion for comic books, reading, and punk rock. He loves writing about often overlooked and under-reported stories to help raise awareness.

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