Latest posts by Alvin Bryan (see all)
- Millionaire Tyupkin Malware ATM Hackers May Come to US, India After Hitting Europe - October 23, 2014
- BitLicense Will Allow Bitcoin Spying in New York - October 22, 2014
- Australians are Fighting Data Retention Laws - October 22, 2014
Opening with the PRISM scandal, we learned from Edward Snowden that the NSA has been prying into our online affairs. This was followed by many reports about the real extent of government surveillance capabilities. Google is just one of nine Internet companies that we learned have been sharing our data with this government spy agency. Privacy-conscious individuals need to incorporate a few new practices to stay anonymous on the Internet by preventing Google tracking. Using private search engine services, not opting to stay logged in to Gmail, and routing all Internet activities through a VPN can keep Google from tracking you.
The massive state-level NSA surveillance is conducted in part by means of unlimited access to the large Google tracking databases all over the world. Staying clear of Google tracking is one big step that users need to take towards regaining online privacy. We cannot wait while the legalities are discussed. With a steady approach to learning new Internet browsing habits we can again become anonymous online.
Private Search Engines
A good routine that will protect your identity and personal information starts with using private search engines instead of Google. You can still search on Google, Yahoo, and Bing if you are not logged in to your accounts with them and so avoid being personally connected to the search. However, the cookies that the pages leave on your browser and computer will leave a trace to you through your device. Alternatively, there are several search engines that respect user privacy and do not copy Google tracking policies. The best options are search engines that have a track record. Examples are DuckDuckGo and StartPage.
Google Tracking on Gmail
Google’s email service is necessarily connected to Google tracking databases. Many Internet users still prefer to use their Gmail accounts because of the many associated services offered. It is very tedious to transfer over contacts and listings and uploads to separate email and professional profile and video accounts. But anything on Gmail is searchable by the NSA. But if you must maintain your Gmail account, at least for now, you can still stay private. You can still log in to Gmail, but you should use Gmail on Chrome, and everything else on a separate browser. At the very least, make sure you log out of Gmail before you do anything else online.
For you to stay logged in, Gmail will need to identify you. So it stores a cookie for Google tracking on your computer that will not be removed because you will not log out. The cookie stays active, and can send information back to Gmail. It is convenient not to bother with logging in every time you check email. But staying logged in gives Google an open line to your online activities and computer data. Any other online accounts you have that you have also stayed logged in to are similarly open to Google tracking and snooping. And not only is your privacy compromised, but so is the privacy of all you interact with. The open account allows Google to track you to your contacts, and to store information about them as well.
It is easier to find a private email provider than it is to find a private search engine or social media platform. Some of the tested ones are RiseUp, Rediff, and GuerillaMail. Encourage your contacts to switch over as well, especially if they use Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail / Outlook. If they contact you from these email addresses, your data can be compromised from their end. Using encryption for your emails is additional security so their contents can’t be read. You can try GNU Privacy Guard or Pretty Good Privacy for encrypting emails.
There are many other services connected with Google tracking, so learn what they are and try to avoid using them. Again, if you can’t go cold turkey, at least limit the amount of personal data that you share on those sites and services. For additional online privacy, use a cookie blocker like Ghostery. This tool identifies ad companies that are trying to track you and then blocks them.
Hide Your IP Address with a VPN
All your efforts to privatize your searches and emails will be in vain if you do not secure your IP address. Your IP address can easily identify you through your ISP or on any website you visit, particulary services that use Google tracking methods. It is connected to the device that you use to connect to the Internet. Any web page or application that you connect to always reads your IP address to confirm your identity before establishing the connection. Your IP leads to your ISP, who have your name, address, and telephone number on record. Your ISP also tracks your IP address so it can monitor your online activities. You also need to make sure that the metadata on your files is not giving you away. Metadata a content summary that goes along with every piece of digital data you send. It can also contain your computer’s name, and any information you saved on the software you used to create the files. For example, the metadata on a smartphone photo you are uploading probably has your location and telephone number or phone ID. Most ISPs store user metadata by default. And the major ISPs already share data with the NSA.
The most effective way to hide your IP address is with a VPN. VPNs are reliable anonymization tools that have proven to be capable of helping users avoid Google tracking and other types of monitoring. You can also use services like Tor and The Onion Router, but these only cover specific applications. And they are not totally secure. Tor traffic can be monitored at exit nodes, for instance. The most comprehensive online privacy tool is a VPN. They secure all Internet communications on all Internet applications. VPNs additionally have the resources to provide better speeds and connection reliability.
You need to choose a VPN service that is also privacy-conscious, of course. Not all services maintain their own secure servers and route traffic through them anonymously. Some may maintain logs that include potentially compromising user data like metadata. And they may be sharing this information with government offices to keep the peace.
As a final note, changing your password often has always been and always will be one of the best security practices. Most users who stay logged in to their online accounts are less likely to change passwords. Because they don’t need them to log in, passwords are forgotten. Security experts continually advise users that updating passwords is still the first line of defense against data breaches. Whatever mistakes or oversights happen online, passwords are what stand between snoopers and data stored on the Internet.
Online privacy means regaining and maintaining control over who can access your data online. Not everyone may be willing or able to do everything it takes to become anonymous online. But users need to start somewhere, and keeping Google out is a very good start.