Online anonymity is under attack by everyone from the federal government to tech companies, and it looks like countless organizations want to know more about our online habits. Giant databases filled with private browsing details are being compiled even as you read this. State and local authorities are getting in on the act. Your favorite social media sites may know more about than you do at this point.
Perhaps the scariest part of the privacy crisis is the fact that most online consumers seem content to accept this situation as normal and do nothing about it. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to fight back and retake some of your privacy.
Use Anonymous Browsing Tools
Regardless of what platform you might use, using an anonymous browser is an easy way to protect your data from prying eyes. These browsers send very little header data and don’t save cookies, so they leave a much smaller footprint for spies to latch on to. The most sophisticated packages tunnel your traffic through various remote servers, which makes it appear that your browsing originates from some other location. If people attempted to trace your activities, then they’d find someone else’s IP address in the process.
Users who find themselves regularly logging into web apps and other services might want to use a VPN to protect themselves. These virtual networks can regularly assign new IP addresses to packets sent by your browser, which renders them functionally anonymous. They can even sanitize packets sent from other apps on your device.
Social Media Still Isn’t Truly Secure
This does provide some benefits for users since it makes it far more difficult to impersonate them. It’s also helped to reduce concerns over celebrity death hoaxes and other such pranks. However, many people haven’t fully realized how much privacy they’re sacrificing by publicly using their real name.
While it might constitute a huge sacrifice for many users, giving up social networks that sacrifice your privacy is the best way to send a powerful message about how dangerous this practice really is. Savvy users have begun to use Reddit and other social sharing sites instead of Facebook merely because they’re not currently forcing users to sign up under their real names.
The Rise and Fall of Open-Source Software
Adventurous users might want to migrate away from commercial software entirely. Since you can audit open-source code yourself, you can see exactly what it’s doing with your information. You could even consider booting your PC into a secure live USB environment whenever you want to do some heavy Internet use. It takes only a few minutes to set one up, and you won’t do any harm to your computer’s underlying operating system by using one.
Unfortunately, users can’t look to open-source code as a panacea that fixes every problem any longer. Popular Linux distributions like Debian and Ubuntu have added packages that keep track of user activity just like commercial ones do. While they can be easily removed, the fact that this is even an issue is concerning because users often looked to these alternative operating systems as a way to keep big tech giants from spying on their browser history.
China is Actually Following a Western Precedent
Quite a bit of press has been dedicated to the fact that the People’s Republic of China is transitioning toward a so-called social credit system. Communist party authorities are now able to blacklist certain people from posting things online, though this is difficult to enforce in practice. The ban, however, has made it almost impossible to use blockchain-based cryptographic ledgers to protect user’s privacy.
Needless to say, this is concerning because it can impact western users who have accounts with services based in China. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t an isolated incident. Chinese lawmakers are following precedents set by governments and technology providers in North America. While you might think that China has a long history of surveillance, it’s no different from the way that American law enforcement agencies have monitored Internet connections since the 1990s. Keep in mind that phone conversations and even Skype calls have been monitored in the past without American users being made aware of the fact that their chats were public.
Protecting Your Privacy in an Increasingly Scary World
Many Internet users have a number of accounts for services they no longer use. If this sounds like you, then you’ll want to close as many as possible. Closing an account is a great way to remove at least one little window into your private life. Delete any old emails or private messages you have sitting in inboxes as well. While there’s no guarantee that the services that provide your messaging account will delete them from their backup copies, it certainly couldn’t hurt to help them along.