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How to Protect Your Privacy Online in 12 Steps

How to Protect Your Privacy Online in 12 Steps

Do you feel like someone is spying on you while you’re browsing the Internet? Are you worried about your safety? Well, if you’re wondering how to protect your privacy online or how to stay anonymous, you’ve found the right place.

The Internet has made the world a better place. We can’t deny that. But these days a lot of people worry more and more about their privacy online. And they have the right to do so. We hear every day about hacker attack, global surveillance, spying, tracking.

Moreover:

  • ​Internet service providers record everything you do on the Internet. They are required to do so by the law, and they have to provide the record if you’re suspected of illegal activities on the Net.
    Internet service providers record everything you do on the Internet. They are required to do so by the law, and they have to provide the record if you’re suspected of illegal activities on the Net.
  • ​The legislation is changing towards restricted Internet content and censorship.
    The legislation is changing towards restricted Internet content and censorship.
  • ​Malware, viruses, and ransomware steal your data and information.
    Malware, viruses, and ransomware steal your data and information.

These are all excellent reasons why you should be seeking tips on how to protect your privacy online.

What do you need to protect your privacy?

Even if you’re not worried about Big Brother watching and don’t kid yourself that he isn’t, it’s still crucial to protect your online privacy. If you’re not careful, unfamiliar people can learn tons about you just by hacking your accounts or by stalking your online activity.

You may say “I’m not a programmer, I don’t know how to do complicated stuff.” Well, I’m not going to teach you to be a computer expert, but I’m going to show you some simple things you must do to protect your privacy.

To protect your privacy online, you just need a couple of things:

  • ​Basic computer skills.
    Basic computer skills.
  • ​Some apps and add-ons
    Some apps and add-ons
  • ​Time
    Time
  • Common sense.
    Common sense.

So now let’s see what steps you have to take to protect yourself.

#1 Get rid of Windows

Most of you are probably using Windows as their primary operating system. Well, then I have some bad news for you. The most recent version of Windows – Windows 10 raises a lot of concerns when it comes to the safety and security of its users. For example:

  • ​Windows 10 gathers information about your browsing history, and it creates a profile of your interest so that it can show you relevant ads.
    Windows 10 gathers information about your browsing history, and it creates a profile of your interest so that it can show you relevant ads.
  • ​The more you use the new digital assistant Cortana, the more it learns about you.
    The more you use the new digital assistant Cortana, the more it learns about you.
  • ​When you log into a Microsoft account, it stores all relevant data and syncs it with your other Microsoft devices.
    When you log into a Microsoft account, it stores all relevant data and syncs it with your other Microsoft devices.
  • Microsoft privacy statement sounds ambiguous when it comes to protecting your privacy.
    Microsoft privacy statement sounds ambiguous when it comes to protecting your privacy.
  • Wi-Fi sense allows you to share your password with friends. For example, if your friend has Windows 10 and he is in your social circle, he can automatically log into your Wi-Fi when he comes for a visit.
    Wi-Fi sense allows you to share your password with friends. For example, if your friend has Windows 10 and he is in your social circle, he can automatically log into your Wi-Fi when he comes for a visit.

To protect your privacy, you have the following options:

  • ​Ditch Windows and Microsoft and get Linux.
    Ditch Windows and Microsoft and get Linux.
  • ​Change Windows 10 privacy settings.
    Change Windows 10 privacy settings.

Linux is open source software, and therefore, a person with computer skills can notice if anything is wrong with the code. For example, someone spying on him.

Moreover, most viruses and malware are written for Windows. This means that they won’t target Linux users. The big con is that most programs and applications also run mainly on Windows. But there are many Linux option out there if you’re willing to make the change. In addition to this, Linux:

  • ​Can be easily customized
    Can be easily customized
  • ​Is easier to update
    Is easier to update
  • ​Runs faster than Windows
    Runs faster than Windows
  • Offers more free applications
    Offers more free applications

If you choose the second option, here’s what you must do:

  1. Click the windows icon in the taskbar.
  2. Choose “Settings” and go to “Privacy.”
  3. Go to “General” and turn off all four settings.
  4. Then go to “Location” and again turn it off.
  5. Disable “Speech, inking &typing.”
  6. After that go through all the others settings and disable everything you’re not comfortable with.
  7. Check this guide for more information. 
  8. Disable Cortana if you’re using it.

You can also go back to previous versions of Windows – Windows 7 or Windows 8.

#2 Use VPN to protect your identity

You’ve probably heard about VPNs, and maybe you’re using one. Then you’ve made an excellent step towards protecting your identity and privacy online. If you haven’t, let me explain why you need one.

Then you Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) create an encrypted tunnel between you and the Internet servers. All your traffic goes through that tunnel, and no one can see what you’re doing on the Internet. Moreover, a VPN hides your IP address and provides you with anonymity because no one can pinpoint your location.

If you’re not using a VPN, your connection to your IPS is not encrypted. This means that anyone from hackers to the government can see what you’re doing. If that’s not enough, ISPs can sell your data to third parties. While those individuals might not have malignant intentions, it’s still not a pleasant thought.

VPNs are also handy if you want to avoid geographic restrictions. For example, you’re in France, but you want to access the US Netflix catalog.

However, don’t ever use free VPNs. You know the saying "There is no such thing as a free lunch" right? Well, that’s very true when it comes to free VPNs because they are not safe.

Let me tell you why you shouldn’t ever trust a free VPN:

  • ​Many free VPNs are infected with malicious malware, which will steal your data.
    Many free VPNs are infected with malicious malware, which will steal your data.
  • ​They have hidden tracking, which collects your information.
    They have hidden tracking, which collects your information.
  • ​Free VPNs are not secured and may be accessed by third parties.
    Free VPNs are not secured and may be accessed by third parties.
  • Some VPNs steal bandwidth.
    Some VPNs steal bandwidth.
  • They might redirect you to sites without your permission.
    They might redirect you to sites without your permission.
  • Your IP address could leak from the encrypted tunnel.
    Your IP address could leak from the encrypted tunnel.
  • Free VPNs might steal your identity and money, not only information.
    Free VPNs might steal your identity and money, not only information.

Here are some paid VPNs that have been checked and have proven to be trustworthy:

To install the VPN, just visit your selected website and follow the provided instructions. For optimum security, you can also get a VPN router to secure all electronic devices.

#3 Stop using Google 

Get rid of Google. Yes, that right. Google is undoubtedly the most popular search engine. And it keeps an eye on all your activity, especially if you have a Google account. It uses this data to build a profile of the user to “personalize the user’s experience.” Fancy words for spying, if you ask me.

So, the first step – stop using Google. Oh, no! What I’m going to do without Google! Don’t worry. There are alternatives to Google, and I’m not talking about Yahoo or Bing:

  • ​DuckDuck Go – this is an excellent search engine because it doesn’t retain data, doesn’t track you or use targeted ads. They also have a zero-sharing policy.
    DuckDuck Go – this is an excellent search engine because it doesn’t retain data, doesn’t track you or use targeted ads. They also have a zero-sharing policy.
  • ​StartPage – very similar to Google, but without the spying
    StartPage – very similar to Google, but without the spying
  • ​Searx
    Searx

To install, DuckDuckGo on Firefox:

  1. Click here.
  2. Select “Add to Firefox.”
  3. Follow the installation instructions.
  4. Restart your browser.

To install, DuckDuckGo on Chrome:

  1. Open Chrome.
  2. Copy and paste the following address - https://duckduckgo.com/
  3. Choose “Install DuckDuckGo.”
  4. Follow the instructions.

One more thing, if you’re still using Google, don’t ever use voice search. Or any similar software that allows you to dictate messages. Everything you say gets recorded. Everything. And who knows who gets this information.

As long as you’re up to the task, you might also delete your Google account. Here’s a video that will show you how to do it.

#4 Stay away from ads

You visit your favorite website, and you see an interesting ad. You click on it. Sounds innocent enough, right? Very, very wrong. An important rule of online privacy – ads are not your friend.

First, ads are dangerous because they might contain malware, which you can download on your computer with one click. Moreover, there are many pop-up ads which claim to offer “legitimate” software but do the opposite.

Once infected, this malware will wreak havoc on your system, steal personal information, slow your laptop performance, change your settings. You get the picture, right? And if you don’t have a good antivirus program, you might never learn that you’re infected until someone steals your money, online information or identity.

Moreover, ads are used to track the user’s behavior and activity, and they try to sell you stuff all the time. It can be annoying to see the same thing over and over again or to stumble upon pornographic ads.

Cybersecurity researchers also warn that viruses can be embedded in the main scrip of the page and you might get infected just by opening the site. That happened a while ago to people who visited legitimate sites like MSN, BBC, New York Times, etc. They got infected with the ransomware.

Ransomware encrypts all the date on your device. And they want money to give you the description key. But no one can guarantee that you’ll get your data back if you pay. So, don’t throw your money away.

In case, you got infected with ransomware before reading this article the best thing is to get over the loss of your information, reinstall your OS and take precautions.

However, the solution is simple. I’m going to offer you three choices:

  • ​Add-ons for browsers
    Add-ons for browsers
  • ​VPNs with ad-blocker
    VPNs with ad-blocker
  • eBlocker

For basic security purposes, you must install a browser add-on which blocks ads. You can use uBlock Origin or uMatrix for Firefox, and AdBlock for Chrome. To do that visit the “Add-on” section in your browser and follow the installation steps. 

The good thing about these add-ons is that they are free, but the con is that they make it easier to track your activity (browser fingerprint). We’ll talk about it in a moment.

The other option is to install a VPN with an integrated ad blocker. I highly recommend that because the malicious and bothersome ads will be blocked right at the VPN server and they won’t get anywhere near your laptop.

The last option is to buy an eBlocker. This is a handy device that allows you to serve the net anonymously. It not only blocks ads, but it also hides your IP address and prevents tracking. eBlocker also can be connected to the Tor browser or a VPN for added anonymity. 

Moreover, it’s entirely legal, and it doesn’t require any software or installation. Just plug it into your router, and you’re ready. But it’s more expensive than the VPN.

#5 Change your browser

Most browsers - Chrome, Mozilla, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge –gather and store information about the sites you’ve visited. But if you can’t use these popular browsers, what can you use?

The answer is Tor – (The Onion Router), an open network, which has been built to protect its users from tracking and helps them blend with other Tor’s users. While the Tor Network might be too slow for some of you, the Tor browser is just a modified version of Firefox with added security.

Here is how to use Tor browser with no Tor Network:

  1. First, download Tor for your OS.
  2. Install it.
  3. After that, go to “Options” and click “Preferences.”
  4. Select “Advanced,” then “Network” tab and “Settings.”
  5. Mark “No proxy” and click “Ok.”
  6. Copy this about: config into the URL box.
  7. Hit enter.
  8. Copy and paste this network.proxy.socks_remote_dns into the search box.
  9. Double click to disable.
  10. Repeat the previous two steps with extensions.torlauncher.start_tor.
  11. And you’re ready.

Keep in mind that if you want to use the Tor browser without Tor Network, you won’t be completely anonymous. You should also get a VPN.

Keep one more thing in mind. Most people use Tor browser with Tor Network. So you might leave a unique browsing fingerprint. We’ll talk about this in a moment.

Here’s a video you can watch to help you with the installation of the Tor browser.

# 6 Don’t leave a browsing fingerprint

When you touch an object, you leave a fingerprint. Browsing fingerprint is something similar, which can be used to track you. And it’s very efficient because it takes into consideration the following factors:

  • Your browser and its current version
  • Your operating system and its version
  • ​Your Language, time zone, fonts
  • Installed extensions and add-ons
  • Cookies
    Cookies
  • Screen resolution
    Screen resolution

So the more extensions and add-ons you have, the more unique you are and easier to find. Check how unique your browser is here.

#7 Don’t use free emails

While Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook are good free email services, they are not safe when it comes to your privacy online. When you’re sending an email, everyone interested in it can read it – your ISP, hackers, the government.

In addition to this, your message is not encrypted, and it’s stored on the servers of your email provider. And there is no way for you to detect if anyone has read what you’ve written.

The solution is a simple one. Start by deleting your old email account. For Gmail follow this procedure:

  • ​Open your Google account.
    Open your Google account.
  • ​Go to Account Preferences.
    Go to Account Preferences.
  • ​Click on Delete products.
    Click on Delete products.
  • The select Gmail.
    The select Gmail.
  • Follow the instructions.
    Follow the instructions.
  • Choose to remove Gmail.
    Choose to remove Gmail.

Then, choose a secure email provider. I’m recommending ProtonMail because:

  • ​Emails are secured with end-to-end encryptions.
    Emails are secured with end-to-end encryptions.
  • ​You don’t have to provide personal information to create your account – just a username and password.
    You don’t have to provide personal information to create your account – just a username and password.
  • ​They don’t keep IP logs.
    They don’t keep IP logs.
  • You don’t have to install anything.
    You don’t have to install anything.
  • You might set an expiration date after which your letter gets destroyed.
    You might set an expiration date after which your letter gets destroyed.

#8 Secure/Delete your social media accounts

Probably a lot of you have a Facebook account where they share stories and photos, tag friends and post comments. It all seems innocent, right? Well, it isn’t.

A stranger can observe your profile and learn small things about you – your name, birthday, where you live or work, how you look like- and use this information to his advantage.

So, rule number one when it comes to online privacy – don’t share your life on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. You can’t have privacy and security if you post updates regularly and inform everybody what’s happening to you.

Use fake information if you want to keep using the social media and don’t ever post selfies. That’s an essential rule, especially when it comes to your children or allowing children to have social media accounts.

And don’t tag yourself when you go somewhere. You’re saying “I’m not home, come and rob me.” Remember that not all people on Facebook are there to have fun, some are stalking and looking for their next victim.

The best thing will be to delete your social media account. Brutal, I know, but necessary if you want to be anonymous and safe. And it’s simple. Just click here and select “Delete my account.” 

If you’re not ready for this, remember these simple rules:

  • ​Don’t share accurate information about you with strangers.
    Don’t share accurate information about you with strangers.
  • ​Use fake name and birthdate.
    Use fake name and birthdate.
  • Be careful what you post.
    Be careful what you post.
  • Add only people you know.
    Add only people you know.
  • Choose a secure password.
  • ​Limit what people can see on your wall.
  • Make sure that people can find you in Facebook search engine.
    Make sure that people can find you in Facebook search engine.

# 9 Secure your cell phone

When you take care of your computer, it’s time to think about your phone. If you want security and privacy, the step is easy – don’t use your smartphone or iPhone. I know, shocking. Take a deep breath. It’s not the end of the world. People have lived without phones for centuries.

Today cell phones are something more than a device, which allows you to talk with friends and family. In fact, cell phones have turned into miniature computers on which you play games, chat with people, log into Facebook, and so on. But:

  • ​Cell phones are also mini GPS that track where you’re and where you’ve been
    Cell phones are also mini GPS that track where you’re and where you’ve been
  • ​Many apps require access to personal information on your device
    Many apps require access to personal information on your device
  • ​Malware might infect even official apps on Google Play
    Malware might infect even official apps on Google Play
  • Service providers are collecting tons of data from your phone

If you don’t plan on getting rid of your brand new iPhone X8, then be smart and think. A simple app like a flashlight doesn’t need access to your contact or messages, and if it wants to access, there is something fishy. Also:

  • Password protect your phone.
  • Don’t allow your phone to remember sensitive login information.
  • ​Turn on security lockout features.
  • Install a software, which allows you to wipe your mobile device remotely. You can get one from Google Play if you’re using Android.
  • Go to “Settings” and disable geotags (the action which embeds your location in the pictures you’re taking).
  • Use an encryption app to secure your messages and calls. For example, Signal and Threema.
  • Activate paid VPN on your phone.

You have another option. There are new brand phones, which are built with the security and safety of its users in mind. For example, the encrypted phone Blackphone.

When you send a message or call someone, your date goes through a private cloud VPN so no one can read your text or spy on your calls. Moreover, since it uses a modified version of Android, you can change the settings on your apps and what they access. And it’s not that different from other smartphones on the market.

Your other option is to get one of these old phones that look like small bricks and use them only for calling, but no texting.

#10 Update your software

Outdated software, applications, and programs are a weak point, which hackers might use to steal your information. Often, companies release updates to fix vulnerabilities in their programs, so stay updated.

I also recommend that you use reliable antivirus software. You can try Avast!, which has a free version and a paid one. For maximum security, get the paid one. It offers you safety from ransomware attacks, protection against fake websites and website spying, and a firewall to keep your information safe. 

#11 Use cryptocurrencies

I’m sure that most of you have shopped online at least once in their life. But while sites strive to protect their customers’ credit card information, sometimes hackers manage to steal it. Or you can stumble upon a false website and lose all your money.

So what’re your options? First, use prepaid debit cards and enter false information and no social security number. In such a way no one can track the transaction back to you. Moreover, prepaid debit cards are not linked to a bank account, and your money is safe.

The other option is to use cryptocurrency. You’ve probably heard about bitcoin. That was the first cryptocurrency, but since then many more have appeared. Cryptocurrencies grant you anonymity, and third parties can’t track or see the transaction amount. 

If you’re interested in acquiring some cryptocurrencies, it’s easy. Just go to Coinbase, create an account and link it to your prepaid debit card. Then choose which cryptocurrency you want to buy. The site is user-friendly for a beginner, and you can store different cryptocurrencies in one account. Just don’t provide real information and you’ll be completely anonymous in your transactions. 

Keep in mind that many sites don’t accept cryptocurrencies, but that will probably change in the future.

#12 Additional privacy tips

To avoid anyone violating your privacy, here are more tips:

  • ​Don’t use home assistance tools
    Don’t use home assistance tools
  • ​Keep separate, unrelated profiles for different activates (work, hobbies, activism)
    Keep separate, unrelated profiles for different activates (work, hobbies, activism)
  • ​Always log out of your accounts.
    Always log out of your accounts.
  • Use a secure password for your accounts.
    Use a secure password for your accounts.
  • Get a password manager to keep your passwords safe.
    Get a password manager to keep your passwords safe.
  • Encrypt your devices and password protect your router.
    Encrypt your devices and password protect your router.
  • Don’t open suspicious emails, links or photos
    Don’t open suspicious emails, links or photos
  • Block JavaScrips and Adobe Flash.
    Block JavaScrips and Adobe Flash.
  • Use HTTPS Everywhere to additionally secure Firefox.
    Use HTTPS Everywhere to additionally secure Firefox.
  • Check this video for more information:

​INFORGRAPHIC

	InfoGraphic - How to Protect Your Privacy Online in 12 Steps

As you can see, there are many ways someone can track you online and disturb your life. So be smart and learn how to protect your online privacy and how to stay anonymous.

And while having a 100% security and privacy online is hard to achieve, it’s not impossible. Just follow these steps, and it will be tough for someone to invade your privacy.

Just remember one final rule – you don’t know who you’re talking on the other end. Never share any kind of personal information and don’t ever use sensitive information for services that could easily be hacked (Facebook).

So what do you think about these tips how to protect your privacy online? Feel free to comment if you what to add something to the list.

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