How to “Mask-Up” While Browsing Online

Online Browsing = Train of Thought

Our inner train of thought is the most personal piece of our identity. Our train of thought is not shared with anyone and dictates how we communicate and act.

Internet browsing is the online version of your train of thought. The moment you open up your internet browser and type a query into a search engine, you are drawing a path of links and pages mapped across the internet. Over time this map begins to resemble our inner thought processes as we look online for answers to our questions.

As with your inner train of thought, it is important to protect your online train of thought from others. The biggest threat to your personal internet browsing comes from entities tracking and collecting your online activity. Three of the biggest culprits are Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

Online activity is tracked across websites by companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon through certain types of cookies. Cookies tend to get a bad name in the privacy space because of the cross-site tracking capabilities of ones deployed by large data collectors like Facebook and Google. However, many cookies deployed on websites are just temporary stores of data and allow websites to function more smoothly and are relatively innocuous.

You should assume the use of tracking cookies when you use almost any service offered by Facebook, Google, or Amazon. If you ever wondered why you see advertisements for an item you googled or looked up on Amazon earlier that day or week, it’s because trackers used by Google, Facebook, and Amazon recorded that you googled that item and used that information to sell you advertisements.

Tracking begins with the search engine you use. Whenever you use the Google search engine, Google is recording everything you search for. As you click through results on Google, they more likely than not deploy a set of trackers to provide advertisements on the sites you visit. Advertisers are not the only third-parties monitoring your internet activity. As you surf the internet, your internet service provider (ISP) is aware of every website interaction you make as well. At the end of a single session of browsing, your online train of thought has been broadcast to at least three or four different parties.
The tools below will help cut-down, and in some instances eliminate, many of the surveillance vectors plaguing your daily browsing.

Tools:

Phone:

Computer:

DuckDuckGo: DuckDuckGo is a search engine alternative to Google that does not collect or store your searches. You can make DuckDuckGo your default search engine in almost any browser. Adding the DuckDuckGo extension to your browser provides you with their tracking blocker as well. DuckDuckGo’s secure search engine is available on your phone as well as through your browser or through the DuckDuckGo app.

Tor Browser: The most secure browser you can use is the Tor Browser run by the tor project. Tor uses something called onion routing. Onion routing connects you to the internet through several layers of encryption and multiple servers around the world to anonymize you. Tor provides the best protection when browsing the internet as it does not store any cookies on your computer and blocks trackers. The downside of Tor is that some websites will not work because of the way the data is processed over Tor. My suggestion is to use Tor when you want to research, watch or write anything you need to keep extra private.

Onion Browser: Onion Browser is the only Tor browser available on the iPhone that is certified by the tor project. Android devices can use the Tor Browser downloaded from the tor project website.

Firefox: When it comes to your everyday use browser, there are lots of good options. I like Firefox for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I find Firefox takes it easy on the horsepower of my computer compared to chromium based browsers (e.g. Google Chrome, Brave). It is also open source and there are plenty of privacy and security settings that can be changed to accommodate whichever level of security you require. However, don’t be afraid to explore other browsers like Opera or Vivaldi.

NordVPN: For the average user, a VPN is a great tool to improve your privacy when browsing the internet. A VPN obfuscates your internet traffic from your internet service provider (ISP). There are many services that provide VPNs. I use NordVPN as they have one of the larger networks of servers around the world as well as a competitive price point. When it comes to selecting a VPN, avoid using “free” VPN services. Often times these free VPNs collect and sell your data. NordVPN along with ProtonVPN extend VPN coverage to your phone.

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