Simple methods of preserving Privacy online

Searching or "googling"

The simplest way to protect the details of your private life is to change your searching habits. DuckDuckGo is a Google-alternative that never creates individual profiles. The company, therefore, as opposed to all of its major competitors, cannot link search terms to users and locations. Take a tour of DuckDuckGo's features here and you may find you actually prefer it as a search engine, regardless of the privacy benefits. It is also available as the default browser on many products including Safari (both on the iPhone/iPad and Apple computers) and Firefox, so a quick changeover is easy to make.


The browser you use to surf the internet can affect the security of that surfing greatly. Firefox is fast, customisable, and open-source, so you can be sure there aren't any backdoors that send data to unauthorised recipients. Whatever browser you choose to use, remember to update it when prompted - many updates add new security protections to respond to the latest threats. Also consider downloading HTTPS Everywhere, a extension to your browser that encrypts the connection to websites automatically whenever possible.


What if you were told you would never have to see an advertisement on the internet again, advertisers would be prevented from tracking your web movements, and your connection speed would improve? With Adblock Plus, all of this possible. It's a snap to download and install, and before you know it, you'll forget the annoying - and in the case of malware, potentially dangerous, - ads ever existed. Note: "unobtrusive" ads aren't blocked by default but this is easily changed in the settings - and recommended.


Another simple way to protect some of your most intimate personal information is to invest in a more privacy-minded email service. Though it requires the dedication of switching over, as well as the change in mindset to viewing email as a service worth paying for if it is secure and outwith the spheres of immense corporate tracking, migrating from "free" services that exist to barter your information can provide peace of mind for the protection of your correspondence and details. Kolab Now offers such a service (as well as file storage a la Google Drive and iCloud) on servers housed in Switzerland, a country with some of the strictest laws in the world protecting personal privacy that include restrictions on the selling of personal data. It is also thought that the servers' location in Switzerland puts the emails (or files) beyond the scope of PRISM, the United States' massive global surveillance program revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Email plans begin at around £3 per month. Remember, even the most seemingly benign correspondence can tell our life's story when viewed panoramically. Everything from political views to spirituality to sex lives can be revealed through mailing list subject lines, not to mention the actual content of our messages to friends and family.

Changing your settings

How secure are the settings on your devices and applications? Unless you have endeavored specifically to amend them to something more privacy-conscious and security-minded, it is likely that they are wholly insecure, as this is the preferred mode of most companies.

For Facebook users, see this guide on how to ensure you have the strictest possible settings enabled, so that you're only sharing what you want with who you want. Facebook has also introduced a privacy check-up tool to review your settings, information about which can be found here.

The good news for iPhone users is that as of a recent update, much of the data stored on the phone itself and sent to other phones is locally encrypted if you use a passcode or fingerprint to access the phone. (So definitely set a passcode or fingerprint if you haven't!) This means that Apple could not give over your data even if it was compelled to, because it holds no ability to access it. The bad news is that this encryption is only as strong as you make it. The more complex  passcode, the stronger the encryption. Check here to see if you have one of the most commonly used passcodes. If you do, know that your phone is extremely vulnerable and consider changing it. If it concerns you that all of the data, iMessages and Facetime conversations you send back and forth with your iPhone contacts is only encrypted by four numbers that could possibly be randomly guessed, as happened with many celebrities when their private photos were released, consider going to "Touch ID & Passcode" under your settings and switching the "Simple Passcode" option off. This will allow you to set a passcode using the full keyboard, providing exponentially greater security, and if you choose something clever and type-able enough, you might find after a few days that it's just as easy and quick to use as the simple numbers. If you use your fingerprint to access, you might reasonably feel comfortable with that level of encryption but keep in mind that many experts have said it can be faked and if you're actually in the room with someone who wants access to your phone, they could forcibly put your finger to it, so consider using a quick, complex passcode instead.

(Bear in mind is that the above is not true for any information stored on Apple's iCloud. Your contact list, photos, whatever you might have stored, is still encrypted between you and Apple but Apple does have the ability to decrypt it, and could therefore access and pass everything on if compelled to, so consider whether it's important to you to store your phone's contents "in the cloud". The risk is that if you lose your phone you might not be able to retrieve everything added to it since it was last backed-up to a computer, but as long as you regularly back-up your phone to your computer, it shouldn't be a problem. See here how to remove an iCloud account from a device - remember to save anything you wish to keep if it isn't on the phone itself first.)

Location services

Many devices such as computers and smartphones have the ability to track your location and this is often enabled by default. Some people use these for finding their way with mapping applications, others for dating services. If you never use these functions, consider turning them all the way off: why let your phone follow you if you're not getting anything out of it? If you only use these functions some time, consider leaving them off until needed. And if you only use them for one or two activities regularly, consider restricting the location services to only those activities.

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