7 simple ways to protect your online privacy in 15 minutes

November 3, 2017

Working on data issues, I’m concerned about online privacy. And not in the way that I have something to hide, but more that it pisses me off that I’m constantly being monitored so my data can be used to line someone else’s pockets.

That’s the crux of it – a lot of the internet is now free because ad networks and others track you as your browse and collect your data to build up profiles, which can then be sold to better target ads to you. Your data is valuable, and you’re giving it away for free.

To blatantly overgeneralise, this is what cookies do. They track you as your browse across the internet. Especially third-party cookies, and those are the ones you want to avoid. When cookies were invented, there was a significant lobby to avoid them being called ‘spybots’.

Altaweel et. al (2015) found found that if you visit the top 100 websites on the internet, you easily download over 6000 cookies to your computer. That research has some serious, and seriously scary, gems.

It took me 30 minutes to implement several privacy measures and record them and write this post. Super quick, super simple. Like many of us, I don’t have the time right now to do learn how to use new software or figure out how to read code.

Each of these tips takes a grand total of 2 minutes to implement. No excuses.

Use Mozilla Firefox as a Browser

Back in the day Chrome was meant to be faster, but I’ve been using Mozilla for years and don’t notice a difference. They have more privacy settings, Chrome automatically tracks you, and Mozilla has a foundation which is actually committed to net neutrality and implementing that into practice.

Use DuckDuckGo instead of Google

It’s a search engine that doesn’t track you. Install it here, and take a look at this guy’s blog post on all the reasons why you should.

What I appreciate is that there are no filter bubbles – you don’t get shown what Google thinks you want to be shown.

You can also set it as your default search engine so that when you type into the address bar you’re searching with DuckDuckGo, and the instructions are on the installation page. It takes 30 seconds.

Turn off third party cookies

In firefox, it’s right there in Options –> privacy and security.
These are what my settings look like:

I do keep some cookies, but you could also just choose to browse in private mode all the time. Do be aware that means you can’t expect the browser to remember your passwords and you’ll have to fill them in manually each time.

Turn on ‘Do not Track’

Scrolling down on the privacy settings of Firefox, you can send out a ‘do not track’ message. You can also use a private browser to ensure you’re not tracked at all, but I tend not to do this often because then I have to re-log in everytime I want to check my email.

Install Privacy Badger

Developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, this is another way to block third party cookies. It runs in the background and you don’t have to do anything. Install it here.

Use Signal instead of Whatsapp, and tell your friends

Signal does the same thing as Whatsapp, except it doesn’t track you, it’s not owned by Facebook, and fewer people are on it so you don’t get added to all these random groups where it’s socially awkward to back out.

Check it out here and it’s also available on your App or iOS store.

Disable your browser’s geolocation

This one looks scary but I promise it’s not.

In Firefox, type ‘about:config’ into the address bar. Click ‘I accept the risk’ or ‘I promise I’ll be careful’.

In the search bar, type ‘geo.enabled’. You’ll have an option pop up. Double-click it, and it turns to ‘false’.

That’s it.

If you’re using another browser (tsk tsk), you can see how to do it here.

Other things i’m considering but haven’t gotten around to yet:

There are other things i’m considering but haven’t gotten aroudn to yet because they take a bit longer than 15 minutes and I need to read the documentation more carefully, like GNUPG, PGP encryption for emails, TOR browser, and ORC cloud service (dropbox alternative). Also possible changing my email away from the Google multi-verse.

 

So there you have it, a few simple strategies that will help tremendously. These should be the baseline.

You should also check your email privacy settings, especially if you’re using Gmail.

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