How Private is YOUR Internet Usage?

Category: Privacy

Every time you visit websites on the Internet, you leave traces of your activity in many places. Some of that is the way the Internet was designed, and some is a little more tricky. If you're interested in hiding your online tracks with web privacy tools, read on…

Web Privacy Tools

Every time you visit a website, a log file on that server records the pages you viewed, along with the date, time, your IP address and a few other tidbits of information. That's normal, and as per the design of the Web. If it sounds scary, I encourage you to read my related article Does My Email or IP Address Expose my Physical Location? to find out why none of that information identifies you personally.

However, those aren't the only tracks you leave when you browse the world-wide web. Web browsers store your browsing history. Sites that you visit plant cookies that describe where you've been, what you've clicked, and where you go after you leave. Other people who use your computer can access much of this information easily, and so, possibly, can strangers out there on the Internet.

Web Privacy Software

The good news is that Web browsers have privacy options built into them. Let’s start with Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, since they share a common code base, and work much the same. The Incognito Mode offered by Chrome and Edge’s InPrivate Browsing allows you to open a new browser window that won't save your browsing history, cookies, or information entered in forms. When you close that window, no trace of your activity remains on your computer, with the exception of any files you downloaded or bookmarks you created during the incognito session. To go incognito, click the “three dots” icon in the top right corner. Click 'new incognito window' on Chrome, or 'new InPrivate window' on Edge.

Chrome and Edge also give you control over what browsing data is stored, and for how long. The Clear Browsing Data option lets you delete some of all of your browsing data. With your browser open, press Ctrl-Shift-Delete, and a window will open which gives you the option to delete items (browsing and download history, cookies, stored passwords, cached files) from a specific time range.

There are some browser addons that delete all traces of your web browsing history each time you close the browser. Here's a helpful article with more details on how to implement the "delete on exit" function. See also my article Everything Google Knows About You (and How to Delete it)

If you're still using Internet Explorer, click Tools > Internet Options. In the "Browsing History" section, you'll see a checkbox labeled "Delete browsing history on exit." Check this box if you want Internet Explorer to delete all traces of your web browsing history each time you close the browser. For finer control, use the Delete Button, which will let you selectively wipe your browsing history, temp files, cookies, form data and saved passwords. The Settings button next to Delete lets you control how many days of history should be stored.

In Firefox, click the “three dots” icon in the top right corner, then Options, and you'll find these options on the Privacy tab. You can set Firefox to clear your history and cached files after every session, or store such data for a limited time. You can also control and selectively delete cookies here.

If you distrustful of Google and Microsoft, you might want to try a "privacy enhancing" search engine such as Startpage or DuckDuckGo. These search tools promise not to share your IP address or personal information with other websites or advertisers. DuckDuckGo queries several search engines and present the top results. StartPage acts as an anonymous proxy to Google.

Do Not Track and the Downside

You may have heard about a web browser option called "Do Not Track". It's supposed keep "evil advertisers" from tracking your online activities. All major browsers have a way to enable this option, but because of the way the Microsoft chose to implement it, most browsers, website operators and the entire online ad industry have ignored this setting. Turn it on if you like, but it won't do much of anything. In fact, it might do just the opposite. See RIP “Do Not Track,” the Privacy Standard Everyone Ignored for more details on that.

On Edge or Chrome, to turn "Do Not Track" on or off, click the “three dots” icon in the top right corner, then Settings. Under "Privacy and security," click Cookies and other site data, and you’ll see the control for Do Not Track. On Firefox, enter about:preferences#privacy in the address bar and press Enter to find the Do Not Track settings.

There is a downside to deleting your cookies, passwords and form data, or using the private browsing/no-tracking options. Websites that offer personalization or customization may not work properly, or may have missing content on the page, where third-party or personalized content would normally appear. You'll have to enter your username and password every time you visit sites that require a login.

There's also the issue of ads. The use of browser cookies allows advertisers to show ads that are relevant to you, based on the web pages you visit. Turning on some of these "privacy" options won't turn off the ads, but it will force the browser to display generic or non-targetted ads. Personally, I'd rather be "tracked" if it means that the ads I see are potentially relevant to my interests or needs.

Web Privacy Software Downloads

For even more privacy protection, check out this list of free and paid programs and services you can try:

Privazer is one of the most popular (and free) computer/web "cleanup" tools. PrivaZer cleans up Internet browsing history, temp files, log files, and other traces that may contain private information, but does a "smart cleanup" of cookies and bookmarks, so you won't need to enter your saved logins, passwords and shipping address again. See my article Here's How to Sanitize Your PC With PrivaZer for my review of this software.

GoTrusted Secure Tunnel makes all of your Web browsing anonymous and secure with a portable Virtual Private Network (VPN). It creates an encrypted, firewalled connection even on public WiFi hotspots that are not secured with an encrypted password. It hides your IP address from eavesdroppers. GoTrusted does not erase cookies, history lists, or other traces of your activities stored on your hard drive, but it does protect you from snoopers lurking online. GoTrusted is free to try for 7 days, after which you can subscribe for $9.95 per month.

Easy-Hide-IP is an IP address anonymizer that, according to the company, "bypasses virtually any form of censorship or internet traffic blocking imposed on you by your ISP, your company, or third parties." With the Easy-Hide-IP proxy installed on your computer, all of your Internet traffic is routed through remote servers. As a result, the log files of the websites you visit will list the anonymizer's IP address, not yours. You can even choose your faux IP address and location, and encrypt all Web connections made by your browser or other Internet-enabled applications. Easy-Hide-IP's unlimited service costs $11.95 per month or $47.40 for a full year.

Do you have something to say about web privacy software? Is there a privacy tool or service you have found useful? Post your comment or question below…

 
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This article was posted by on 4 Dec 2020


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Most recent comments on "How Private is YOUR Internet Usage?"

Posted by:

Todd
04 Dec 2020

Don't forget ProtonVPN has a great free version, though not as fast as their paid version.

Opera has a built-in VPN option that works really well.


Posted by:

BillK
04 Dec 2020

To stop tracking I use two Firefox extensions -

Privacy Badger
https://privacybadger.org/
and

Trace
https://absolutedouble.co.uk/trace/

No problems so far with them.


Posted by:

ebloch
04 Dec 2020

FireFox extension "Forget Tab" adds Icon which when clicked removes all info about the active window - including password and cookies.


Posted by:

RalphB
05 Dec 2020

DuckDuckGo has a browser (not for Windows) that does not track anything. Once finished, you can delete all tabs and data, leaving no trace of activity. Used with my VPN on an Android phone/tablet, I'm pretty much invisible.


Posted by:

Charles Schwab
05 Dec 2020

When it comes to a VPN, I recommend HideAway VPN by Firetrust (the people who developed MailWasher)....based in New Zealand.
And at the time of writing, they are cheaper than the group listed in the email above.
They advertise as the fastest VPN in the world. I use them and am very pleased.
Info here - https://www.firetrust.com/products/hideaway-secure-unlimited-vpn


Posted by:

john
05 Dec 2020

If you want to make your browsing experience private and safe, I recommend reviewing https://www.privacytools.io/


Posted by:

JP
05 Dec 2020

I've recently been seeing "Waiting for murmur.tecumtha.com" when connecting to many web sites. I found nothing useful after searching for both the full URL and just tecumtha.com. There are 2 cookies which I can delete, and that helps temporarily, but "somewhere" some site adds both cookies back onto my PC. Any clue how I can prevent this in the future? Would adding tecumtha.com to a HOSTS file help?


Posted by:

Ron Atkinson
06 Dec 2020

I always refuse the invitation to store my passwords on Google. Otherwise my internet surfing etc. I'm happy to display to any hapless soul wo has the time to look at it. Apart from some very ocassional p*rn the remainder should provide a cerebral treat.


Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
02 Jan 2022

I have been using the Internet nearly since its inception, dating back to my MS-DOS days, using a 96-baud phone modem and connecting to BBS services. Since Windows 95, I have used one ISP or another, initially with a 56-K phone modem, then later using an Ethernet Adapter of various speed capabilities.

I view surfing the web as being similar to going outside. When I go outside, I have no expectation of privacy. People can see what I look like, know where I am, know what I do, hear what I say, and see what I buy (when I am in a store). Essentially, anything I say or do in public is public domain information, so I act accordingly. If I don't want others to see what I am doing, I don't do it. If I don't want others to hear what I say, I don't say it. If I don't want others to know where I go, I don't go there.

When I surf the web, I hold similar expectations regarding my privacy. Anything I say or do on the Internet is public domain information as is anywhere I go. If I don't want others to know where I go on the Internet, I don't go there. If I don't want others to know what I do on the Internet, I don't do it.

When I am outside or on the Internet, I behave in a similar manner. I go where I want to go, do what I want to do, and say what I want to say (either written, spoken, or on video), but I ALWAYS remember that I am in public, and I act accordingly. I keep details as generic as I can while getting my point across. I don't try to hide my activities on the Internet (or outside), but I don't advertise them either.

IMHO, I think that for the most part, things people do regarding their Internet use, in the name of their personal privacy such as using a VPN, or a TOR browser are over kill (and probably not worth the bother). Most of us are simply not that interesting. There are exceptions. Government and business employees need to secure their connections to their employer's servers and secure their employer provided devices with more extensive measures than most of us to ensure their employer's security and privacy. Further any employee who uses his/her own device for business purposes should have another device for personal use, secure each for its intended purpose and use each accordingly without fail.

My2Cents,

Ernie


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