With recent revelations by Edward Snowden about the U.S. Government and NSA surveillance, many people have started to wonder if internet privacy has become an oxymoron. Most recently, a story circulated about a New York family, the Catalanos, who received a visit from the Suffolk County Police Department, a member of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).
Twitter also disclosed that it received more information requests from the government in the first half of 2013 than it did in the first half or second half of 2012, respectively. While Twitter obliged approximately 66 percent of these requests, they are hopeful of increased transparency into the secret orders for this information.
Fallout from Snowden’s revelations and stories like the ones mentioned above have led many to wonder what internet users can do to protect their privacy.
To start with, it’s best to sign out of your Google, Yahoo, or other accounts when casually surfing the internet. You can clear out your search history, but a better alternative is to visit the support page for your particular browser and follow instructions on clearing cache and cookies. It will erase your settings and passwords for websites, but if privacy is important to you it’s good to note that this is the primary way internet sessions are recorded.
After clearing cookies, you can open a new internet window in incognito mode. This simple option, which can usually be selected in the toolbar, prevents any internet activity performed in the incognito window from being recorded in your browsing history and deletes cookies once you close the window.
Some who value privacy may find it worthwhile to pay for a reliable proxy server, which serves as a third party, making their IP address viewable instead of the one associated with your own account. As a result, any internet activity through the proxy server isn’t associated with your IP address. There are free alternatives, but quality and reliability are something to keep in mind.
If you just want to make a search quickly with the assurance it will be private, you can look to Google alternative, DuckDuckGo. It’s free and anonymous, and while it doesn’t display the expansive results Google will, it can be a good choice for those who want an easy, fast way to search something they’d rather keep private.
Most people have nothing to hide and value their privacy on principle. In an age of email and cloud storage, the internet and computers are unarguably useful tools in our daily personal and professional lives. The most common sense approach is to be wise about the information and content you store, share, and post about online. The tips mentioned above are a good start to assuring that our personal information and private behavior are not sacrificed at the hands of a technology intended to help us live an easier, more productive life.