5 Simple Defenses Against Online Spying

On nearly 90 percent of the websites you visit, third-party trackers are recording what you do. The information is bundled with offline data like credit card purchases and loyalty card use, and your profile is sold to thousands of companies; hence the creepy ads (and worse) that follow you around the Internet. Take these precautions to ensure your privacy

by Laura Sinberg
Photograph: O.O.P.S.

Block Outside Trackers
Not only do they target ads to you, but they can also determine whether you comparison shop and charge you higher prices if you don’t. One solution: Download the free Epic Privacy Browser, the first browser to show you which sites are monitoring you and to block companies from tracking you. Rather stick with your current browser? Make sure to set its privacy options to block third-party cookies. Visit fixtracking.com for a free guide to the most basic and effective methods of blocking tracking by browser type.

Next, prevent other types of tracking—some sites will “fingerprint” your system, for example—by installing a free browser add-on like DoNotTrackMe.

Protect Your Searches
Free alternative search engines, like DuckDuckGo.com and Epicsearch.in, make your searches anonymous, since they don’t store personal information. They also combat data decryption by supporting PFS (perfect forward secrecy) connections, which turn the information you’re sending over the Internet into a unique and hard-to-break code.

Reroute Your Searches
Even if you can’t fathom a world without Google, you may still want to prevent the websites you visit from going through the search engine’s servers, since they save your search history. To do this, turn off Web-browser services. (These are features your browser provides to make your online experience more convenient; they include personalized search suggestions and auto-translate options.) But be careful: Disabling the services may also affect your malware protection. In general, it’s a good idea to have supplementary coverage to avoid getting viruses, but it’s especially important in this case. Try WOT.

Add Another Layer of Protection
Particularly if you use public Wi-Fi, download a virtual private network, or VPN, to prevent outsiders from accessing your computer—and potentially your passwords and credit card info. Try Spotflux or Hotspot Shield, both free.

Erase Your Footprint
Prevent your boss, husband or anyone else from tracking your search history by using the private-browsing option in your drop-down menu. The feature automatically erases your search history when you close your screen. 

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First published in the April 2014 issue

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