Reduce Your Digital Fingerprint On The Web
How much information can be obtained about you from using your phone or just simply browsing on the web? Why do we care if someone knows what we are doing on the web? Your information is constinatly being monitored by the websites you visit, apps that you use such as facebook, your internet provider, search engines like Google and Yahoo, and even the government. Your information is also sold to 3rd party companies from several of these websites. There is a robust amount of data about you on the web and your information is spread around the web simply by using it. Protecting your privacy does not mean you are doing something wrong. So how can we stop it?
There are several steps you can take to reduce your digital fingerprint and the amount of information you share. These steps can be divided into different tiers based on their time and difficulty to increase your privacy.
Tier 1: Easy ways to protect your privacy
This tier is composed of relatively easy things that you can do to increase your privacy without making you change your habits. Remember that any steps you take, no matter how small, can help reduce the amount of information that you share.
Easy Step 1: Browser Add-ons
There are several browser add-ons you can use to help reduce the information you share. Add-ons such as Privacy Badger from EFF, HTTPS everwhere, and Ad-Block or uBlock Origin are all great ways to start. Privacy Badger automatically detects what information websites are trying to share and blocks it. HTTPS everhwere makes sure that you are always using a secure version of a website if it exists. Ad-Block helps stop advertisements which can be used to collect your information.
Easy Step 2: Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication is a service that helps prevent someone from logging into your account from an unkown location. This is done by sending a code to your email or text to your phone that is required to log into your account. This means that the attacker has to have your phone or email in order to gain access.
Easy Step 3: Use a Virtual Private Network
A virtual private network, or VPN for short, is either a paid or free service that encrypts all of your internet traffic. It works by creating an encrypted tunnel to a server. Your traffic then travels from the server to the internet. This creates a barrier between you and the rest of the web.
VPN’s can be used on your home computer, tablets and phones. While there are several free vpn apps available, keep in mind that there is probably a catch. Some free vpn’s can still sell your information to make up the cost of the service. I reccomend a paid service such as Nordvpn or Private internet access. Paid VPN’s have the most privacy and do not keep any logs of users. They can even be paid for anonymously. They both offer easy to follow instructions to get started and cost less than 4$ a month.
Easy Step 4: Firefox Focus and Duck Duck Go
Firefox Focus is a web browser made for android and IOS that blocks ads, deletes passwords and history, and prevents tracking. Currently there is not a desktop version but private browsing can be done by using firefox in a private window.
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.mozilla.focus Google App store
Duck Duck Go is a search engine similar to google, however it does not track your searches or store any personal information.
Easy Step 5: Use a password manager
There are plenty of free password manager applications available such as LastPass. Strong passwords are essential to increasing your security. The same password should never be used for all applications. Lastpass creates a new strong password for each of your apps and stores them for future use. The setup can be time consuming but it will greatly increase your security.
Tier 2: Intermediate ways to protect your privacy
This next tier is composed of ways to further increase your privacy. The steps in this category are more time consuming, may require more dedication, and require drastic changes.
Intermediate Step 1: Use iMessage or Signal
Texting or “SMS” is a common part of communication. SMS has been around for a long time and has no encryption. Services such as Signal and iMessage use encryption to prevent your text or calls from being open to plain site. Signal is available for Andriod, iphone, and desktop. The messaging app iMessage is exclusive to Apple products.
Intermediate Step 2: Use Protonmail or your own email server
Changing your email can be a daunting task. Often we have used the same email address for years or even decades. Changing email providers can be very time consuming and can take several weeks to accomplish. The easiest method is to change your email address for services as they come into your old inbox. This step was placed in this category because it requires monitoring your old email address and then changing your email address for every service that you use.
There are several email services available such as gmail, yahoo, and outlook. Services such as yahoo have been involved in major security breaches, exposing email and passwords for several users. Gmail is a common email service and offers services such as two factor authentication. However, it is commonly used with third-party applications and offers no end to end encryption. Services such as Protonmail offer end to end encrypted emails or secure emails to others not using protonmail. Protonmail does this by encrypting the message and then prompting the reciever for a password to open the email. Protonmail servers are located in Switzerland.
Creating your own email server gives you the most access and control over your emails. This requires owning a physical server (even if its a raspberry pi) and can require some time to set up. However, you will know where your emails are stored and provide your own encryption.