We live in a stalker-friendly world what with people over-sharing more and more on social networking sites; it used to be that if a person wanted to find out what someone was up to they had to go through their garbage, stalk them for absolute ages to get an idea of what was going on or intercept their mail. Nowadays Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other applications and sites allow people to broadcast their every move.
Unlike the NSA I don’t subscribe to the view that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear, I do believe that my information is private and unless I choose to make it public it should stay that way.
Facebook is pretty blatant about using their members information for advertisements and storing data for later use – even if you delete your profile there is no guarantee that the information will ever truly be gone. Websites like Delete Facebook give information on how to permanently delete your profile.
Our movements through the web leave tracks via cookies (Cookies are pieces of personal data stored when users browse the web, sometimes to power advertising) that companies use to build profiles for targeted advertising. Google is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to targeted adverts through users search habits and Gmail keyword scanning.
EU regulations have made it easier for end users to see what cookies are being saved on their computers – some for ease of use but others to monitor what people look at so they can be targeted for online sales.
Add to this the revelations of what the NSA and GCHQ have been up to with spying on online communications and previously unknown acronyms (PRISM) becoming public knowledge it has made me feel less than secure online.
Staying (relatively) anonymous online
I have been aware of The Onion Router (TOR) for ages and have even played with it for a while – it is a cross-platform program and works on Windows, OSX and Linux operating systems. There are even Android & iPhone apps that allow secure mobile browsing.
While it is true that TOR will slow your online activities a bit, it does make your web use more secure as long as you know what you are doing when you use it! The founder of The Silk Road learned this to his cost when he was arrested.
Find out more about TOR here
Notorious bittorrent tracker Pirate Bay has released a browser bundled with TOR that allows users to surf the web anonymously.
Duckduckgo a relatively new search engine markets itself as a tracker free search site
DuckDuckGo gets its results from over one hundred sources, including DuckDuckBot (their own crawler), crowd-sourced sites (like Wikipedia, which are stored in their own index), Yahoo! (through BOSS), Yandex, WolframAlpha, and Bing. For any given search, there is usually a vertical search engine out there that does a better job at answering it than a general search engine. Their long-term goal is to get you information from that best source, ideally in instant answer form.
You can also use a Linux-based system such as TAILS – a live system that aims to preserve your privacy and anonymity. It helps you to use the Internet anonymously and circumvent censorship almost anywhere you go and on any computer but leaving no trace unless you ask it to explicitly.
It is a complete operating system designed to be used from a DVD, USB stick, or SD card independently of the computer’s original operating system. It is Free Software and based on Debian GNU/Linux.
You can also use a standard Linux distro for more control of your computer, personally I use Ubuntu as my home OS. Linux is incredibly secure but it cannot protect users from compromising themselves through ignorance so make sure you know what you are doing!