Browse The Web Anonymously. You Know You Want To.

Web browsing can be a very scary thing. Websites track your surfing sessions. Social networks, search engines, your Internet provider, even the government may be tracking you online as well! They may be collecting what they consider valuable marketing data, or trying to prevent potentially dangerous criminal activity, regardless, what you do online, in the privacy and comforts of your home, sadly folks, is anything but private!

Thankfully, The MacMentor is always looking out for his people! There are a few ways to spend time online anonymously. Below, are some tips I’ve gathered to help your browsing be done anonymously.

How To Tweak Your Browser

Do you ever wonder about the ads you get on your Facebook page, or other sites you visit?  How they are seemingly tailored just for you? Well, THEY ARE!  To help avoid sites knowing “who you are”, or better, who your computer is, one thing you can do is use anonymous proxy software. I know what you are saying, “English, please Mr. MacMentor!” Anonymous proxy software is a great way to mask, or hide your IP address online. However, even using this type of software, there is still plenty of information about your Web-surfing habits stored on your computer — which could also be viewed over a network, say, by the IT department at the office, (that’s right folks).

Thankfully, its very easy to manage your privacy settings right in your Web browser, unless the company you work for does not give you admin privileges, which you need to make changes to your browsers settings.

You should delete your browser history to cover your tracks.

A great thing to do is to disable the cookies in your browser. A browser cookie is a tiny text file that gets stored on your computer. It has information about where you’ve been online, your passwords, and other information as well. You should also delete your browser history to make certain to cover your tracks! Every major browser, from IE, Chrome, Safari or Firefox allows you to delete your browsing history. All you need to do is go into the Options or Settings on your favorite browser and you’ll see how this is done. In Safari, Apple makes it very easy. Click the History Menu option and you’ll see a menu like the one below pop up.

You’ll click the Clear History option (last item on the pop-up menu), then a window will appear like the one below.

From there, click the Clear button (highlighted in blue) and your browser history will be clean.

NEVER click “Remember my password” for any private or financial institutions. 

Another tip…Turn off Auto-Complete functionality on your browser. If Auto-complete is turned on, someone could jump on your computer, type in a few letters of a Web Address (URL) bar, or in a search engine and any recent places you’ve visited could be automatically filled in!  Didn’t I tell you it could be scary out there! And NEVER click “Remember my password” for any private or financial institutions. Doing so could grant a hacker access to your most precious information.

Now that I’ve thoroughly scared the S#%@ out of you, there is another, very easy thing you can do. Most browsers allow for private surfing. If you are a Safari user, click on the Safari menu option, and choose Private Browsing. Enabling this feature will stop your browser from saving any history, search queries, cookies or passwords.

Search Engines

Let’s discuss search engines. You could simply choose not to save your browsing history. For example, Google, recently was ordered to make this easier for users in Europe.  You might also consider not logging into your Google account when you are using these services, or you may choose to install a free browser plug-in that tells Google and other advertisers to simply back-off.

Facebook

Finally and sadly, you may (or may not) have heard that Facebook is going to start sharing Web-browsing history it collects with advertisers to display more targeted ads — yes, even on non-Facebook sites you visit. Thankfully you can opt out of this within Facebook’s Privacy settings.

Smart Software

Speaking of Facebook, how on earth does Facebook know to show you ads for your local gym or supermarket? In part it’s because your computer’s unique Internet Protocol (IP) address, assigned by your Internet provider, reveals your geographical location. Unfortunately, even if your computer generates a different IP address every time you boot up or log online, this number (e.g. 220.165.119.12) still tells your general location.

There are a slew of solutions that allow you to hide your Internet connection, allowing you to remain anonymous while online.

One solution is to use a free “online proxy servers” to conceal your identity. Simply point the Web address (URL) to the proxy server and surf right from its website. For help with this, check out proxy.org for a list of great options.

You may wish to download Virtual Private Network (VPN) software that encrypts your browsing sessions.

The browser-independent Hotspot Shield from AnchorFree (www.anchor free.com), for example, available for Windows, Macs, iPhone and Android, channels all Web activities through a personal VPN. It secures Internet communications by turning all HTTP traffic into the safer HTTPS—which is what your bank uses for a safe connection. You can purchase an ad-supported free version and a beefier “elite” option ($29.95/year) with more bells and whistles.

Similarly, Tor is free software that protects you against Internet surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy. TOR is short for “The Onion Router”, which gets its name from its “layered” approach to the encryption process (www.torproject.org), provides online anonymity, too. The software routes Internet traffic through a worldwide volunteer network of servers to conceal your location and your online browsing patterns.

USB Sticks

Lastly, this blog will cover USB sticks.  In some cases, software to encrypt your connection is kept on a USB drive. These can be fantastic when you  wish to remain safe and secure when using a public PC.

Check out the SurfEasy Private Browser ($69.99 one-time fee; www.surfeasy.com).  Its a tiny USB key that fits into a credit card-shaped case to be kept in your wallet. When you plug it into a PC or Mac it immediately launches its own password-protected browser and you’re good to go (no other configuration required).

Your browsing session is handled through SurfEasy’s fast and secure private proxy network. Your IP address will be masked throughout your browsing session.

SurfEasy  also has a new downloadable product, called SurfEasy VPN, that can protect not only computers, but your iPhones, iPads and even Android devices as well!

Lastly, check out Tails (www.tails.boum.org), which can be downloaded and installed onto a USB stick to run independently of the computer’s original operating system. Similar to SurfEasy, it allows you to browse the Web anonymously, on virtually any computer, as all connections are channeled through the earlier mentioned TOR network.

You can choose to do nothing. Just be aware that you are being “followed” and “watched.”

Didn’t realize how unsafe your browsing was, did you?  I hope this post helps.  You can choose to do nothing. Just be aware that you are being “followed” and “watched”.  There are things you can do, and things I hope you do to help protect yourself.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact The MacMentor for assistance!

Geoff Horwitz

About Geoff Horwitz

Geoff Horwitz, The MacMentor, is a computer technology guru. He has wealth of experience and expertise not only in Apple technology but in computing needs in general. Geoff has spent more than 20 years consulting for big businesses, most recently with Apple. He began his own successful business after he realized that there was a real need and demand for quality consulting and training on a smaller but much more gratifying scale. Now, as the MacMentor, he shares his knowledge with consumers, schools, libraries, and small businesses. Specializing in, but not limited to Apple technology. You can see from the reviews from his customers they not only appreciate what is learned, but also for his relaxed, patient and humorous style of mentoring. You can learn more about Geoff at his website, www.themacmentor.com