The internet is a wonderful resource to have at our fingertips, but despite being largely free to access, it comes at a high price.
Every time you Google something, scroll through your Facebook timeline or complete an online purchase, anonymous companies are monitoring what you do.
Harvested information is generally used for fairly benign activities like targeted advertising, but occasionally, it might be deployed in more negative ways.
The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal demonstrated how our opinions have become big business.
After all, few things are truly free of charge, even online.
Commercial websites generally need significant amounts of server space and bandwidth, plus admin personnel, software developers and marketing/PR staff.
These resources have to be paid for somehow. And the price is often our personal information.
Fortunately, there are ways to browse the web anonymously.
We’ve listed five ways to ensure your next browsing session doesn’t end with viewed items appearing in social media timelines, or unguarded comments coming back to haunt you…
1. Stay off social media.
This may elicit gasps of horror from people who can’t go out for a meal without Instagramming it, or those who obsessively count the likes their recent status updates receive.
However, social media sites are possibly the most avaricious consumers of personal data on the internet.
Nothing is sacred in the social media ecosystem. Every post, like and comment is being stealthily recorded and sold to anonymous corporations for a variety of uses.
2. Don’t log into websites.
In one of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole novels, our anti-hero asks a teacher how they knew he’d written a graffiti poem in the toilet. “Because you signed it,” comes the reply.
Similar sentiments apply to logging into websites. Comments or interactions linked to your account will be stored, recorded, and potentially resold – or even saved by search engines.
Sites will ask you to accept cookies, but you can decline. Key functionality may be blocked, but you can live without it. And you don’t really need to share your opinions with the world.
3. Download the Tor browser.
If the above suggestions don’t cover the full breadth of your online activities, it may be worth installing a web browser which makes tracking user activity almost impossible.
Developed by the US military and part-funded by the American Government, Tor is an entirely legal web browser which randomly distributes data packets around the web.
Consequently, user activities can’t be tracked. Unless you log into a website (as explained above), nobody could track your activities – not even tech-savvy cyber criminals.
4. Switch to a privacy-oriented search engine.
Tor comes with the Startpage search engine installed by default. Billing itself as “the world’s most private search engine”, Startpage is the antithesis of the ad-funded Google platform.
It doesn’t log, track or share personal data, while its discreet Anonymous View browsing experience has been copied by Chrome (Incognito) and Edge (InPrivate).
It’s also possible to browse the web anonymously using other privacy-oriented (if implausibly named) search engines, including DuckDuckGo, Qwant and Swisscows.
5. Use a VPN.
Our sister site VPNS.co.uk [https://vpns.co.uk/] reflects the growing popularity of using a Virtual Private Server to connect to the internet.
A dedicated piece of software creates a secured connection between your device and a host server, ensuring any data shared between the two is fully encrypted.
Be aware that some VPNs retain basic user data. However, the best platforms use uncrackable encryption keys, working on any device from an iPad to an Android phone.