How Private is Your Web Browsing?
Every time you use 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, but 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.
The good news is that Web browsers have privacy options built into them. 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.
Users of the Edge browser on Windows 10 computers have similar controls. In Settings, look for the "Clear browsing data" option, then click on "Choose what to clear". Make your selections (options include Browsing History, Cookies, Cached data, Download history, Form data, and Passwords) then click "Always clear this when I close the browser."
In Firefox, you'll find these options on the Tools > Options > 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. In Chrome, click the Options (or Wrench) icon at the top right of the window, click Settings, then click "Show Advanced Settings" at the bottom of the page. In the Privacy section, you can use the "Clear browsing data" button to selectively delete browsing history items.
The Chrome browser gives you control over cookies, and there are some addons that implement the "delete on exit" function. Here's a helpful article with more details on how to make that happen. See also my article Everything Google Knows About You (and How to Delete it)
Regardless of which browser you prefer, you can kick privacy up a notch by using the "private browsing feature" which prevents your browser from storing cookies and browsing history. See my article Private Browsing for more details and instructions on how to turn on this feature in Chrome, Firefox, or Safari web browsers.
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.
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 $7.49 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 $5.95 per month or $47.40 for a full year.
Do you have something to say about web privacy software? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 19 Dec 2019
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- How Private is Your Web Browsing? (Posted: 19 Dec 2019)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved