How Private is Your Web Browsing?

Category: Privacy

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.

Web Privacy Software

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...

 
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Most recent comments on "How Private is Your Web Browsing?"

Posted by:

Alan
19 Dec 2019

Google Chrome is the worst browser for privacy. Last month, I tried out a VPN service, and it worked fine, but when I wanted to browse on YouTube, I had to sign in with my email login. YouTube is owned by Google. The problem is not with Chrome itself, it's with the company Google. They are collecting a huge dossier of data on each of us. You don't even have to click on something, just hover your mouse over some ad, and you will start getting targeted ads for that item. I remember a few years ago, everybody was paranoid about NSA monitoring our emails for terrorist related key words. NSA is the least of our problems--they are just looking for terrorists. It's Google and Facebook we have to worry about.


Posted by:

Greg C
19 Dec 2019

Your DNS requests are available and recorded by your ISP unless you change your DNS servers. Be careful which new ones you select as they will then have a record of where you went and what you downloaded. Some people suggest google DNS servers, but google already knows too much about you. OPENDNS may be useful for most people. I use my VPN's DNS servers.
Here is a good site to test for DNS leaks:
https://dnsleaktest.com/
There is also a link on this page explaining"Transparent DNS proxies"This means that a sly ISP can track you regardless.
So, the next step is to encrypt your DNS requests. As expected the authorities and nosy ISPs who want to sell your browsing history to advertisers don't like this at all:

https://www.zdnet.com/article/dns-over-https-causes-more-problems-than-it-solves-experts-say/

Maybe Bob can cover this in the future. You can change your DNS servers in your router, unless your ISP prevents this. or change it in your Windows. I do both. If you change it in Windows, I have found it has to be changed for EVERY adapter, i.e. for wireless and ethernet BOTH ! (unless some one knows a better way )


Posted by:

lajoes
19 Dec 2019

Me, I'd rather turn off "do not track" and continue to delete cookies and data on a regular basis. Then I ocassionally will report an add as "not appropriate".

Yes, it's pay back and an alogrithm messer upper. :}


Posted by:

bb
19 Dec 2019

Easy recommendation: use the uBlock Origin extension, web browsing will be faster. Yes, it's an AD-blocker, but it does much more.

FireFox in 'Strict" mode does even more. You probably don't need anything else. If you do ... use the "Brave" browser. It will break some websites, but so what, you're privacy is protected.


Posted by:

Greg C
20 Dec 2019

Sorry fo a second post, but this is important!
A windows hosts file can greatly improve your browsing experience. A VERY good host file will block almost all adds, often better that an add blocker. With the BIG benefit that no website will ask you to disable your add blocker.
Info here:
https://www.zdnet.com/article/how-to-use-a-hosts-file-to-improve-your-internet-experience/

I use this hosts file. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to any way to just download it. I have to cut and paste into notepad. This updates at least once a month and blocks ALL the nasties !!
https://someonewhocares.org/hosts/


Posted by:

Jerry
20 Dec 2019

I've been trialing the browsers, Brave and StartPg. They claim to be give better privacy.


Posted by:

RandiO
21 Dec 2019

I am on cable ISP at 300Mbps (max.) speed. I paid $56 for 3 years for a secure/private VPN service(brand intentionally omitted) and I am reliably able to get speeds in excess of 240Mbps when I hit servers that support such high data rates.
There is no way for the (collective) us to talk BobRankin away from continually prescribing us Alphabet products... so; we shouldn't...


Posted by:

misterfish
22 Dec 2019

In reply to Alan's assertion that we should be worried about Google and Facebook, I have two suggestions. First, use duckduckgo instead of Google (Bob has covered this before) and second, don't put any accurate personal data in your FB profile, use a separate browser for FB and NEVER access FB with your principal browser - this because FB stealthily accesses your browser history whenever you log in.


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