Time for an Internet Privacy Checkup

In the wake of recent Supreme Court rulings, law enforcement could compel tech companies to surrender more data to aid in prosecutions.

In my days working as an internet service provider, our company routinely provided data to help law enforcement prosecute illegal activity. Many included warrants from a court, but some did not require that level of authority for us to comply. As laws change tech companies will likely review the volume of data they’re collecting, what they must provide, and seek clarity on how long they must retain it.

Our favorite hangouts, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google search, Gmail and the like have long collected and sold information about us to entities who want to influence our behavior. If you’ve ever been in “Facebook Jail” for some random post they felt was inappropriate, you know “Meta” is watching your every move, both on your timeline and in your messenger conversations.

The same goes for the applications on your smart devices. Any data retained is data that might be subpoenaed. Apps that help you purchase things and track your health  are windows into what we once thought was a very private world.

It’s wise to review your own habits and tools to keep prying eyes from spying on your internet activity.

Here are 8 things you can do to maximize your internet privacy.

  • Use a virtual private network VPN’s bypass your ISP’s infrastructure and data collection capabilities. This helps to cover your internet tracks.
  • Use a separate, secure browser like TOR. TOR is the go-to browser to use when searching for and consuming controversial content. It comes with a variety of privacy features and is designed to hide you from prying eyes. There is a robust development community and is the safest way to browse. Incognito mode, or a private window on your current browsers won’t protect you from what you send over the net, but incognito does ensure nothing is stored on your local computer. If you continue to use other browsers, research and install extensions designed to hide your data from Facebook and other websites / application which may track you across other apps.
  • Set your browser to only use HTTPS. – HTTPS Everywhere is a free tool from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The application tells your browser to limit connections only to HTTP(S) sites. HTTPS encrypts your traffic to help hide it from others.
  • Use a secure DNS – Most of us use the Domain Name Server provided by our ISP. DNS connects the words we type into the address window with an IP number and makes the connection. This data is saved by your ISP and may be sold to outside parties and provided to law enforcement. CloudFlare’s DNS resolver adds a layer of protection. The company does not share your information.
  • Don’t search with Google – Google makes money based on data collected from search. And Google collects a ton. Find a privacy-focused search engine like DuckDuckGo, which does not track or record your search history.
  • Be careful what you say in an email – Most of us have Gmail accounts, work emails and perhaps a mail service connected to our own dot com address. All of these services collect data. Even if you use a privacy focused service like Proton Mail, the address you are sending it to may be insecure. You never know if the recipient may someday use what you send them out of context or in a negative light. A good policy is to assume anything you put into a device connected to the internet will become public. Whenever you fire up your computer, watch your language.
  • Use a secure messenger. Facebook Messenger, Instagram messages and most direct messaging included with on-line communities are monitored. Try a private messenger service like Signal.
  • Don’t talk about your personal health on any social network. – Companies extrapolate trends based on what you are posting and use artificial intelligence engines to create assumptions about your behavior.

Current events are a reminder that what’s legal today, may be illegal tomorrow. And the big companies we frequent on the web are always cataloging our every move.

If you have concerns about privacy, consider these and other strategies to limit the amount of information you share with the world.