At Far or Near we take your privacy seriously. But, there are many sites across the web that don't. And, every time you access these sites you're revealing sensitive information about yourself.
In this article, I'm going to point out a few tools and techniques that you can use to take back control of your online privacy.
Block tracking sites
Many websites send information about your visits to them to third-party services. These services, such as DoubleClick, attempt to build a profile about you which can be used to better target advertising based on your browsing habits.
One great tool that I personally use is a browser plugin called Disconnect. It blocks connections to third-party sites and allows you to see which websites are being connected to in the background. Occasionally you will find websites that will not function properly with Disconnect enabled. When this happens you can easily whitelist the website to allow it to function as intended.
Disconnect has been tested with Far or Near and should not cause any significant problems. However, certain types of embedded content may not load properly. If that happens, it's the third-party website that the embedded content is coming from and not us.
Use a search engine that doesn't track you
Most search engines keep track of the places you go so that they can better target advertising to you. You can opt-out of this by using a search engine that doesn't track you.
Here are some of our favorites:
- DuckDuckGo has a lot of innovate features, such as shortkeys that you can use to search popular websites.
- StartPage gets most of its results from Google and has its own proxy service. Click the proxy link to anonymously visit one of the sites that appears in your search results.
Use a VPN service
When you use a VPN service, a tunnel is created between your computer or router and a third-party server. Since many people are likely to be connecting to the same server, all of your traffic is mixed together and its hard to tell which traffic is coming from where.
Of course, logging into a website or doing anything that involves using your real identity will give you away. It's just a basic layer of protection to prevent advertisers from tracking you based on your IP address.
When choosing a VPN service, it is important to pick one that does not keep logs.
Private Internet Access is one of the more popular services and I like promoting them because they are a supporter of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The Onion Router, commonly referred to as TOR, is designed to anonymize internet traffic. When you connect to TOR, your traffic is routed through a series of nodes. These nodes are hosted by other users. Since your traffic is passed through multiple nodes around the world, it is difficult to track traffic back to a user. In order for this to work properly, you'll need to adjust your browsing habits and avoid activities that could reveal your real IP address, such as watching flash based movies.
Of course, TOR is not foolproof. Even if your ISP cannot see where you are going, they can see that you are connected to TOR. If you visit the same websites every time you access TOR, then after enough times it may be possible to figure out who you are by process of elimination. To do this, the ability to monitor all or significant portions of the internet would be required.
One of the major drawbacks of TOR is that it will slow down your connection considerably. For most users, TOR is probably overkill.
Adjust browser settings
By default, most browsers allow websites to set cookies. These are small files located on your computer that help the website to identify you.
Unfortunately, many websites won't work properly without them. Here are your options:
Disable cookies - You'll notice that a lot of website will not work properly, especially ones that require you to sign in. If there are sites you visit regularly, you can add them to a list of exceptions.
Automatically delete cookies when you exit your browser - This is a nice compromise for most people. It comes with the downside of having to log into websites constantly, but you really shouldn't leave accounts logged in anyway.
Have your browser ask permission before setting cookies - This can be annoying, especially on sites that set a large number of cookies. Of course, that may be an indicator that you no longer want to visit that site.
Adblock Plus helps you block annoying ads. By default it allows some unobtrusive ads, but this can be configured.
If you use webmail, make sure your provider has an SSL certificate and if you access your mail using an email client like Outlook or Thunderbird be sure you are using a secure connection. If your provider does not support secure connections, find another provider.
Beyond just making sure that your email is technically secure, you need to trust that your provider will respect your privacy.
Here are some mail hosts that we recommend:
- MyKolab uses the open source Kolab project and is hosted in Switzerland. Switzerland has some of the best privacy laws in the world.
- ProtonMail offers a fully encrypted inbox. They can't be forced to reveal what's in your inbox because they don't have a way to decrypt your messages. Only you do. Like MyKolab, ProtonMail uses servers located in Switzerland.