Guest Blog: Internet Safety Advice from a Tech Expert

In the wake of the Ashley Madison data leak, one can’t help but think about Internet Privacy, and how much of everybody’s personal information is really floating around out there. Our friend Steve from www.techboomers.com is here to share some important tips about Internet Privacy that we should all keep in mind, regardless of the nature of the sites we frequent.

Many people think that their activities on the Internet are more private than they actually are. For example:

  • Information posted on certain websites — especially social networks like Facebook and Twitter — is largely public. Even if only certain people are supposed to see it, once it’s shared with someone else, it can be seen by many more.
  • Websites and corporations often use tracking programs to collect information on how people use the Internet. They then sell this information to advertising firms, potential employers, and even health insurers… anyone who’s interested.
  • Many governments around the world monitor the Internet activity of their citizens. In some cases, certain Internet websites and activities are blocked or otherwise forbidden for political, economic, legal, religious, or other reasons.

While you may believe that you have nothing to hide, it’s still important to know some methods for keeping at least some of your online personal details out of the hands of people who might misuse them. Here are four practices that will help make sure your Internet activity is your business only.

1. Use a proxy website, virtual private network, or private web browser.

There are some websites, such as Proxy.org, that are called “proxy websites”. They allow you to browse the Internet as if you were that website. This means that only the website gets tracked for your activity; what you do and where you go on the Internet cannot be traced back to you as an individual person.

Other services, such as CyberGhost, are known as “virtual private networks”, or VPNs. They allow you to choose one or more of several different computers to funnel your Internet connection through, so the computer you connect with gets tracked for your activity instead of you. You can even make it look like your computer is connecting from a different country, which may help you get around certain restrictions.

There are even some special web browsers that have these features built in, while being designed to work like more popular web browsers that you may be familiar with. For example, if you’re a fan of Google Chrome, try Epic Privacy Browser. Or, if you prefer Mozilla Firefox, try T.O.R. (The Onion Router).

2. Be smart about what information you post, keeping privacy policies in mind.

A website’s privacy policy will tell you what it will or won’t do with any information that it gets from you. Read a privacy policy, and ask some key questions:

  • How does the website get information from me? Do they take it when I use the website?  Do I have to provide it to them in order to use the website? Why do they need this information?
  • Does the website share my information with anyone? If so, then with whom, when, and why? Does the website display my information publicly?  Is there any way to control this?
  • How long does the website keep my information, and why? Will they get rid of it if I close my account or directly ask them to remove it?

With what you learn from reading a privacy policy in mind, take care about what information you post online. Only post personal information in places where you know that it will be secure (look for “HTTPS” in the website’s address, and a little lock icon beside it), and don’t put it in places where people can easily see it or find it. This is especially important to remember when using social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

3. Know how to manage your cache, browsing history, and cookies.

Your cache, browsing history, and cookies are three elements of your web browser that help you use the Internet.

  • Your cache keeps track of elements on web pages, so it can load websites quicker when you re-visit them.
  • Your browsing history keeps a record of web pages that you’ve been to, so you can find and return to them quicker.
  • Your cookies serve as reminders of things that you’ve done on websites, such as whether you’re logged in or not, and any preferences that you may have set.

While these can sometimes be useful or necessary for using the Internet, they can also often be used to track your online activity. They also sometimes take up your computer’s memory space and processing power unnecessarily. That’s why it’s important to know how to occasionally clear them out; most major web browsers have easy-to-use options that allow you to do so.

4. If necessary, delete an account and directly request the removal of your information.

If you’re really not happy with how a website is using your information, then you can usually delete your account with them. This will sometimes prompt them to delete your information from their system as well. However, you will probably have to check the website’s privacy policy to be sure, and even then, your information may not be erased right away.

For example, this tutorial will show you how to delete a Twitter account.

If deleting your account on a website doesn’t cause them to discard your information as well, you may be able to directly contact the website and request that they get rid of your data. Again, some websites may allow for this in their privacy policy, and some may not. And even if they do erase your information, again, they may not do so right away, in order to comply with the law (for example). It’s worth a shot, though, if you’re that worried about your privacy.

We hope that these tips have helped you become aware of the options available for protecting your privacy online. We also hope that following some or all of these guidelines will let you browse the Internet with confidence, without worrying about your activity being tracked.

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