Use a VPN Based Outside of 14 Eyes Countries
VPNs hide your identity by routing your connections through multiple servers, in multiple locations. The most effective way to use a VPN is by installing the VPN client on your devices. There are some VPNs that are installed as browser extensions, but since they only effect your connection through your browser, these VPNs offer less security protection.
Another important factor to consider is where your VPN is located. You should avoid VPN providers based in “14 Eyes” which is an alliance of countries set up post-World War II for the purposes of conducting surveillance on their citizens. While many people have positive experiences with virtual private networks based in the U.S., and other 14 Eyes countries, for privacy purposes it’s best to avoid these nations.
The best VPNs for keeping your internet use as confidential as possible, will have strict no-logging policies so even if it is approached by a government agency about its users’ activity, there will be no information to hand over. If however, your VPN provider is based outside of 14 Eyes countries, the U.S. government may be unable to approach the VPN provider with court orders to view records.
Read More: The Best VPNs for Privacy in 2019
Use Encrypted Communications
Using encrypted messaging and email services is essential if you’re concerned with keeping your communications private. Between private messaging apps and private email providers, we recommend using the messaging apps due to the potential vulnerabilities associated with email services. Journalists who rely on anonymous sources for information often use encrypted messengers to communicate without compromising a sources identity.
In addition to basic messaging functionality, many of the private messenger apps offer group text, voice, and video communication. Signal, perhaps the most well-known encrypted messaging tool, also allows you to share files and send disappearing messages.
Encryption is such a powerful way to keep your messages hidden because in most cases, the encryption key used to translate your messages into plain-text is specific to only you. This means that you and the person you’re communicating with are the only ones who can view your conversation.
Delete Your Facebook (And Instagram)
It’s a well known fact that Facebook is basically one big surveillance company. It collects information about nearly everyone on the internet, not just its users. Most recently Facebook was found to be paying teens to use a VPN app intended to collect internet usage data. One step that anyone concerned about privacy should take is deleting your Facebook account, and especially remove the Facebook app from any of your mobile devices. This includes Instagram, as it is operated by Facebook and collects information in much of the same ways.
Not only does Facebook collect your data for its own use, it sells your information to third-parties. In many cases this is done without users knowing what’s happening with their data.
Alternative: Use Facebook Disconnect, which blocks third-party Facebook requests from loading to limit its tracking of your online behavior. Facebook pixels are hidden on more than 8 million websites, which means you’ve likely been tracked whether you know it or not.
Switch to Linux Operating System
If you’re currently running Windows on your PC, you’re leaving your files vulnerable to anyone who can crack the back doors
According to a press release by WikiLeaks, the CIA has created a number of viruses and weaponized “zero day” exploits intended to spy on users of many devices and operating systems, including Apple’s iPhone, Android devices and Microsoft’s Windows. Other operating systems besides Windows weren’t implicated in the release, but Linux is the best alternative operating system if you’re concerned with privacy.
Linux is a free and open source software, so the functionality and inner workings are all totally transparent. Another benefit to using Linux is that there are multiple distributions, some of which are specifically designed for privacy. These versions operate in a “live” mode which means that no data is written on your hard drive.
Use Tails If Necessary
Tails stands for The Amnesic Incognito Live System. It’s a Linux-based operating system built on Debian. It sends all your web traffic through Tor, which helps keep you more anonymous online. The appeal to Tails is that you can run it from a USB or DVD on almost any computer, without leaving any trace.
One use for Tails is opening potentially harmful files or programs. Rather than booting up a program you’ve downloaded from the internet on your own computer with all your files and information, you can use Tails to keep the potential threat isolated. Also, since your internet connection is routed through the anonymous Tor network, Tails can act like an even more private and secure VPN.
Keep in mind that though Tails is a great privacy and security tool, it is not without flaws of its own. Tails publishes the known and previously fixed holes in its system here.
Experience has shown that “security through obscurity” does not work. Public disclosure allows for more rapid and better solutions to security problems. In that vein, this page addresses Debian’s status with respect to various known security holes, which could potentially affect Debian. –Tails Security
Use Firefox with Privacy Add-Ons
As far as browsers go, Google Chrome holds over 70 percent of the global market. Mozilla Firefox is the second most popular browser and compared to Google Chrome, is much more privacy-friendly. The problem with Chrome is that because it is run by Google, it is a channel for Google to collect your internet use data. In the more recent versions of Chrome, it allows users to actually log in to their browser, so that your bookmarks, passwords and other information can be stored in your browser itself.
Firefox doesn’t let you log in to your browser which is much better for your privacy. While Google can track everything within your browser, including your keystrokes, and link it to your data profile, Firefox doesn’t do this.
Recommended Firefox Add-Ons for Privacy
- Privacy Badger
- Search Encrypt
- uBlock Origin
- HTTPS Everywhere
- Facebook Container by Mozilla
- Cookie AutoDelete
Use Private Payment Methods
You could use every privacy measure that exists and still reveal your identity if you’re shopping online and checking out using your personal credit or debit card. There are plenty of other options available to make payments without exposing your identity. One of the best ways to pay for things online in a privacy-friendly way, is to use Privacy.com. It creates secure virtual cards and completes checkout forms for you. This way you can mask your real card details while still checking out in a convenient way. According to it’s site, Privacy.com has saved its users over $115,000,000 in unwanted charges or compromised payment details, hidden fees or forgotten subscriptions.
Side note: If you’re shopping in person, off the internet, cash is the best private payment method. Unlike virtual cards or gift cards purchased with a credit or debit card, cash doesn’t have a way to track transactions.
Constantly Clean Up Your Internet Footprint
Every time you go online you’re probably leaving bits of information behind. You should clear your cookies regularly so that the sites you visit aren’t able to recognize you as easily when you come back to them. Avoid staying logged in to websites when you don’t need to be, so that sites can’t link your browsing to your account.
Another step you should take is deleting your old or unused accounts. If you signed up for a social media account on a site you no longer use, you should delete that account. Since you gave that service permission to collect (and probably share) your information, deleting your account will minimize the data you leave behind.