There is so much to say about your privacy online and how it is being logged, monitored, saved and used against you but i will keep this fairly brief. More posts like this will follow in the future, each covering a piece of the enormous puzzle.
I have been trying numerous ways to get my online privacy back for a long time. Most worked great but came at too high a cost such as severely impacting my workflows or internet speed. The ones that allowed me (most of) my workflows and speed were usually not secure and/or tested enough to really give me confidence to say “Yes, i am now protecting my online privacy”. One of the ways i made this mission harder is wanting the best of both worlds, which is very hard to accomplish. I want the speed of an open internet connection that is not held back by filters, scanners, proxies and plug-ins yet i also want some of my applications and web traffic to have the protection of a private VPN. It has taken me a long time experimenting and trying to get that to work, my plan was to secure one of my ethernet ports with a VPN and leave the other one unprotected. I got it done, somewhat, but again the impact on productivity etc was too high.
There are many ways to get the privacy you want, below are some of the means i have implemented.
First let’s cover the basics, securing your web browser. Safari allows you to install extensions and there are a few extensions out there that can really help in giving you some of your privacy back. Using these extensions is not shielding you completely but it is a good start.
DoNotTrackMe (formerly DoNotTrackPlus):
The name kind of says it all, you can get it for free here.
AdBlock with additional filters:
Install this to block ads popping up everywhere, free download here.
Additional privacy filters are available to protect your online experience from being tracked and exploited by FaceBook.
STOP using Google:
It’s in Google’s best interest to know everything about you. Everything they collect on you is sold so the more they know, the more they get paid.
Google’s search engine is by far the most popular but with every search you do, you give up more of your privacy. This goes for other search engines too.
I recently started using Duck Duck Go, a simple search engine that does not track, log, analyze, exploit or sells your search habits and results. More information can be found on their website here, here, here and here. It is free and a Safari extension can be installed as well. So far i have found the search results to be accurate and load times are fast.
I believe these plug-ins are available for Firefox as well.
Check your settings:
Open the Safari preferences and click on the “Privacy” tab. You will see cookies and website data with a “Details” button next to it. Click on it and you’ll be amazed to see how many websites and companies are already tracking you through cookies and other means. Clear this list out if you want to start fresh or at least carefully read through them and delete the ones you really don’t want in there.
In the same Privacy panel you can adjust settings for the blocking of cookies (set it to what you want, i left this at it’s default setting) and location settings (i have mine set to “Deny without prompting”). You’ll also see an option to kindly request websites not to track you. Check that box but keep in mind it is up to the websites you visit to honor that request, they don’t have to. There is a round button with a question mark in it on the bottom right of the Privacy panel, click on that for more details about all these features.
Your browser is now pretty well set up and will do what it can to protect your privacy. Keep in mind that visiting shady websites, using search engines like Google and clicking whatever ad or banner pops up will render most of these implemented measures useless so be smart when you browse the web. Don’t hand out your info to every website that asks for a registration etc.
Now on to the web traffic itself. This includes everything from your clock syncing with an online server to Mail to Safari. If you want to be sure noone can see what you are doing online, invest in a good VPN service. This will keep your Internet Provider, other websites etc from looking at/analyzing your web traffic as a VPN connection will mask your Ip address, encrypt all web data and in some cases add spam, ad and malware filtering too it as well.
There are a lot of VPN services and more added monthly as people are increasingly more concerned with their privacy (finally!) so do some research and pick one that is right for you. I have been very pleased with the VPN from Private Internet Access.
There is just one problem with setting up a VPN to handle ALL your online traffic, it can be slow for some applications and sometimes applications do not like being used on a VPN connection, this is the problem i was having and the reason i looked so long for a way to direct only some applications to a VPN secured ethernet port.
So for me, i went with a Virtual Machine. A copy of the Mac OS running inside of it’s own (virtual) environment. I use VMware Fusion and run a copy of Mountain Lion in it. This allowed me to install the VPN inside of that virtual machine and have all the internet traffic to and from that virtual machine secured. If i feel a need to check my facebook page, i use that virtual machine to pull it up. That way no tracking cookies etc will be left behind to track me (even after logging out) on my ‘non-virtual’ Mac. All traffic i would not want anyone else to see or know about, i now run from that Virtual Machine.
This takes some getting used to. Instead of just opening up a browser window and loading FaceBook i have to remember to click on Safari in my virtual machine and load it there instead. Same goes for Amazon. I have a dual-monitor setup that allows me to just keep the virtual machine running and visible at all times, this makes it a lot easier to switch between OS’s. Give it a try, see what works for you. Got any good suggestions? just comment on this post.