The average person who uses the internet via computer, tablet, or cell phone, is pretty much unaware that everything they do online is out there for the world to see. I won't argue what should and shouldn't be private and why. I'll let you use your own moral judgement. However, I will tell you how to keep your information as private as possible.

 

Is true privacy on your computer devices even possible?

That's the $64,000 question. The answer lies somewhere between yes and no. The more effort you put in, the more the needle will lean toward yes. That said, legal and technology researchers estimate that it would take about a month for internet users to read the privacy policies of all the web sites they visit in a year. (Gonna have to vote no on reading all that.)

 

Email

Now even the government wants access to your email, among other digital files. Keeping your email private is a bit tricky, but here are some tips:

  • I distinctly remember an uproar over Gmail's privacy policy when someone discovered that Google was basically saying that they can read your emails at any given time. While I'm sure Google's employees have better things to do than read your email about little Johnny's homer in the fifth, they do have programs scouring countless emails looking for keywords and phrases in an effort to target their advertising toward the content of your emails. The tip? Consider using an email service that respects your privacy. Here are a few email providers that do respect your privacy:
  • We all get junk mail and it sucks. Every time we fill out an online form we get added to some marketing list and then your email address gets sold and traded like cattle at auction. The solution? Have a disposable email account just for junk mail. (I personally have three.) Use the disposable account for everything except actual correspondence with friends and family.
  • For even less of a footprint, deploy the ol' General Petraeus trick! Create a disposable email account and give the people you want to communicate with the address and password. Create an email with what you want to say, but don't send it anywhere. Just save it to the Drafts folder. Later, another person can access that draft, delete your text, and then add their own content in the same fashion. This prevents a digital email trail because no email was actually sent and the prior text was deleted before a response was given. This can also work with Dropbox or other cloud-based folders. I would recommend encrypting everything before putting something in the cloud.

 

Web Surfing

Without protection and/or knowledge, everything you do online is visible to anyone who wants it. Following are some tips to keep your activity private:

  • Windows comes with a firewall. At the very least, ensure that it is up and running.
  • If you're using wifi, ensure you have a secured connection so other people don't jump on your network without your knowledge.
  • When surfing, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). VPNs help shield your IP address from the outside world. These services route your data to a proxy server, where it is stripped of your IP address before it's sent on to its destination. This obscures your identity not only from web sites, but also from your internet service provider (ISP). Here are three of the more popular ones:
  • Use a proxy server via your web browser. Cocoon is an internet privacy toolbar designed for Firefox. When setting up your account, remember to use a disposable email account. To verify that the Cocoon is working, go to http://www.whatismyip.com/ before you enable Cocoon to check your current IP address. Next, enable Cocoon then check your IP address again. If all is well, your IP address should have changed after you enabled Cocoon, meaning your "internet telephone number and location" has changed.
  • Go with TOR. Tor is free software that helps you defend against network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy. There are a host of free products there and I highly recommend them.
  • Use a web browser built for privacy. Try Anonymizer.
  • When using a browser be sure to:
    • Disable cookie tracking;
    • Clear your history and set it so a history is not kept;
    • Use "private mode," if available.
  • As far as social networking goes, I use thwack, anonymously. Other than that, I simply don't use the other outlets. My privacy is more important than reading about "Nancy's bad cough," and other mundane trifles.

 

In part 2 I'll discuss privacy protection for your cell phone and how to keep your computer free of files you didn't know were there.