How to keep my searches private?
3rd of February, 2016
While one of our main goals at Privacy Shell certainly is to help users navigate the online landscape while protecting their privacy, we understand that this task is far easier to write on than to actually accomplish. Making this perhaps even more challenging is the wide breadth of privacy products available on the market, whose similarities and differences are sometimes hard to distinguish. With the muddle of products, how-to articles, and advertisements urging users to protect themselves, it is a wonder that anyone has discovered a reliable means of reaching some privacy at all.
Because of this, we have decided to handle these problems from the inside out. Rather than starting with a product, the features of that product, and finally how that protect might address your problems we’ll go the other way around, first examining the problem, determining all the features you will require, and then countering that problem with the right solutions.
Today we will look into the issue online searches and privacy. The first place that some may turn to assuage this issue is a service like DuckDuckGo; however, if we scale upwards, we can see that there are still overarching privacy concerns that might not be solved by simply searching through this search engine. The five sections below address the issues from scaling upwards, and we hope to give a comprehensive answer on how to keep your searches private.
Concerned about privacy but still Googling for answers? You’re doing it wrong. Consider switching to a search engine that better protects your privacy and doesn’t track the queries you are making online. Below are three options we recommend, though there are many alternatives that might be a better fit for you.
As we progress past which search engine we are using, we must look at the browser we are performing our searches in. While most of the browsing giants will track and store information on users, one of the giants, Firefox, has positioned itself as the most privacy-friendly browser. However, mainstream browsers have yet to reach the power or privacy notoriety that TOR Browser has received. TOR’s decentralized method of routing internet traffic and masking IP addresses is one of the biggest tools on the side of privacy and anonymity, recently even being strongly endorsed by Edward Snowden on Twitter.
How are you presently connecting to the places you visit online? Is the controller of your connection tracking your IP as you connect to websites? Afterall, it would be pretty useless to make attempts to keep your searches secret but still had someone tracking the sites you visit in response to your queries. Addressing this problem requires a good Virtual Private Network (VPN) service that doesn’t log activity. It is important to remember that while VPN’s switch your IP around, there is still a central server holding information that can be hacked or subpoenaed. Take a look at our Privacy Shell Product Directory to look through multiple VPNs and find the right fit for you.
In addition to the use of a VPN, consider switching to a more private Domain Name Service (DNS) server (i.e., not Google). Understanding the benefit here lies in understanding how DNS works––this short video below elaborates.
In switching, you can stop your present DNS server from tracking the IP addresses you request when visiting sites.
When searching, particularly on your mobile device, use the default keyboard as opposed to the ability to sending voice data that many devices offer. Using voice data for your queries opens you up to having your voice stored and parsed. In addition, third party keyboards can come with their own privacy policies that might not be as protective as your default.
Internet Service Provider
Be aware of what network you are sending your queries through. There are many privacy solutions users might have in place that all become meaningless because the network they decided to connect with is not properly secured, allowing potential access to your device. In a previous article we wrote on protecting your privacy while travelling, we discussed avoiding public WiFi networks. This tip should not be limited to just travel.
It is important to remember that there will never be such thing as 100% secure, and that is because of you, the human, who forms the weakest point of the entire connection. By being mindful of the network you’ve connected to, you will likely prevent yourself from making a common human error, undoing all your previous efforts.
About Ryan Jeethan
Ryan is a graduate of the University of Waterloo’s Arts & Business program focusing on UW’s unique Speech Communication program.