Protecting Your Online Privacy

Protecting your privacy in todays digital age is important and one that many people just outright fail to put into consideration. My journey with privacy began several years back (Ubuntu 6.10 to be exact)... it was the end of 2006 and I made the decision to switch my operating system to Ubuntu.

There were so many reports of Microsoft spying on users, I had felt it was time to do something.

Ive not been a fan of Google for a while now either. Some headlines from them would include Google getting a Pentagon contract with the NGA, Google developing eavesdropping software (2006), Google selling data to US Intelligence agencies (2008), Google works with NSA on their network (2010), Google working with CIA to fund a startup called "Recorded Future" to monitor websites, blogs, facebook pages and twitter accounts (2010).

But Google & Microsoft are only one part of the concern. Recent news articles have cities, states and countries using drones to monitor people, Facebook tracking and targeting you, and even the IRS saying they dont need warrants to read your emails.

We are only at the cusp of this. Its going to get much worse.

One of the first steps you can do is change the search engine you use. This is super easy to do. Many people I know love using Duck Duck Go because it has a ton of extra search features. I wont go into it here so go to their site and learn more. DDG does not collect or share your personal info. Read their privacy page to learn more on why you should care about this.

One thing I dont like about Google is it creates a profile about you. A sort of bubble. It filters out the bad stuff you dont agree with and promotes stuff it knows you already like (based on your searches, facebook likes, etc). So when you search on Google you really get a filtered view of the world.

My favorite search engine is StartPage. I admit to being hooked on Google searches... almost like a drug. StartPage scrapes Google for its results so they will be similar to that of Google, minus the Google filtering I mentioned above. StartPage DOES NOT record your IP address or track your searches!

When typing in searches, make sure to always use HTTPS to encrypt your info so at least your ISP cant record what you do.

Whichever search engine you consider using, make sure to make it your default search engine right now and start using it. There should be instructions on both pages above on how to add their search engine to your list and make it your default engine.

Next step I would recommend is to block and randomize your web browsing. There are several Firefox add-ons you can consider. Im using three add-ons right now.

The first one is by Mozilla called "Collusion" to see how your "web" of websites sharing data grows rapidly as you view websites...

After installing Collusion there should be a little red icon at the bottom right of Firefox which you can click onto and get a graphical view of whos sharing YOUR data with whom. In fact, the image at the top of this article shows about an hour of web browsing on my computer and how sites are sharing all of your data with one another. Scary isnt it?

So the next two add-ons I use which helps prevent tracking is DoNotTrackMe and TrackMeNot....


* DoNotTrackMe attempts to block sites from sharing data with each other. As an example, ive blocked over 4,400 sites from tracking/sharing my data this morning alone.


* TrackMeNot silently throws out fake search queries which help websites from creating profiles about you. In the last half hour TMN has done a Google search on "plant food" a Bing search on "frozen food" and a Yahoo search on "where is waldo".

There are several more browser add-ons and ideas in the link here...

It goes without saying you should not be using Google Chrome if privacy matters at all to you. Make the switch to Firefox. True, FF is slightly slower on older computers, but the security is worth it.

Stick around for my continued series next week about protecting your privacy and talking about the endgame... were this all might lead. While its not directly Ubuntu related, privacy is important to many people in this world of growing surveillance. I will be getting into it in detail. How to change your SSN, how to register your car in another name, everything both online and offline.

If you have cool web privacy recommendations like those above, please post them. Its our human connection with one another that can be our biggest ally (or worst enemy).

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