10 practical privacy tips for the post-privacy internet

ISPs and providers can now sell your personal data thanks to the U.S. Congress. Here’s what you can do to maintain your online privacy.

10 practical privacy tips for the post-privacy internet
Daniel R. Blume (CC BY-SA 2.0)

ISPs and providers can now sell your data and browser histories. The U.S. Congress sold you out. If you had any browsing dignity, you don’t now. Too bad you couldn’t pay the legislators as much as the data wolves.

You should have been doing these things all along, but now it’s time to decide just how much dignity you have. Most of you won’t bother. This isn’t for you. Click away, and go surf.

For those remaining, take these privacy tips seriously.

1. Educate yourself about cookies and clean them out regularly

For some of you, this means a daily cleanout. What you DO NOT clean out (will cause you hassles) are cookies associated with financial institutions. They will put you through a drill when they don’t find the cookie that they like. Scrape them. Every browser has the ability to do this, with Chrome being the most difficult. But we’re not surprised because it’s from Google—the company whose very life depends on knowing information about you.

2. Use two, or even three, browsers 

You can divide your cookies up this way. I use Firefox for business. Chrome for Facebook and, when I absolutely must, for gmail—as I volunteer for an organization that uses it extensively because they’re dirt poor. You still have to clean each browser. Add the EFF’s Privacy Badger to each. For fun, run Ghostery and Privacy Badger to catch it all.

3. Disable Flash or option it 

Use Flash only when you must. When you use a Flash blocker, you can often run web pages without it. Examples include United Airlines and PayPal. The only time you should use Flash is if a page refuses to load without it. Flash can suck enormous amounts of historical data from your browser in a heartbeat. 

4. Change your DNS server 

When you type https://www.facebook.com, the first thing that happens is your browser asks a DNS server for Facebook’s current IP address. Every request you make of a browser is looked up in this way. And most cable broadband services and ISPs use DNS servers that log your every search. Surprise! 

Everywhere you go, the time and your personally identifiable IP address become logged to serve up as tasty data for those that would abuse it. Change it. Every operating system does this differently. Look up how to do it. DO NOT USE GOOGLE’S DNS server. Use one that doesn’t log you. The DNS.Watch servers do not log requests. They’re not especially fast or slow, in my experience. Comcast, by contrast, will eat your DNS request information up to seven times before giving your browser the actual answer in my experience. There are DNS servers. Stop the DNS logging; one more garden hose you put your heel into. 

5. Lose search engines that track you. Now

Yep, Google, Bing and Yahoo track you. Instead use DuckDuckGo.com. They don’t track. You can proxy requests that aren’t tracked to each of these from DuckDuckGo. Stop feeding the demons.

The biggie search engines have a business model built upon serving you pimped/paid-for results, and noting exactly what you searched for so that you can be served up ads—and eventually your IP address and browsing habits can be correlated into dossiers on you and your search history. Often these can also be used to conflate “things” or characteristics about you, and you have no redress when they make mistakes. You built Google’s billions. It wasn’t because Google was benign. 

6. Use the Tor browser(s) 

The Onion Router/TOR uses a network within a network to obscure the origin of requests made of the network. It puts you on radar because it behaves differently, but it does provide a degree of anonymity. It’s not perfect, and I suspect it’s been cracked, but only by the governmental spooks who don’t sell your data. At least I hope they don’t. 

7. Remove your information on websites

Some sites will allow you to delete your personally identifiable information and search histories. Looking at you, Google. Go to these sites. Carefully follow the instructions regarding deleting your history. Then return later, and make sure it’s gone. Unfortunately, this is a rinse-repeat item, as sometimes histories magically return. Oh, gosh! That shouldn’t happen. 

8. If you have the luxury, change ISPs

You may be captive to Charter, AT&T, Google, Comcast, etc. But if you live in an area with multiple providers, change. Why? You get a good deal for being a new subscriber (watch contract details). And the ISP you currently have is no longer able to vacuum all of the details you generate in using internet services. Their data has gaps and isn’t as valuable.

9. Use virtual machines

Yes, running a virtual machine for the sole purpose of disguising a browser works. It’s a different browser and is typified from an analytics perspective as possibly a different user. Clean each VM’s history just like you would above, and use the same techniques mentioned above as well. It makes life more difficult for the data grazers.

10. Modify your browser as little as possible

Browsers are typified into single individuals by weird things such as font mix, add-ins and extensions. The less a browser is messed with, the less unique it is. Uniqueness helps personal identification and correlation of analytical data captured at websites about the browser. Be generic.

Finally, use https log-ons only. There are so many reasons to do this. Freedom and dignity are important. Exercise them.

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