Web Browsing – Do’s and Don’ts

These days, there is an unprecedented attack on your web browsing habits and your wallet.

Big business wants to know where you surf to on the Internet, what you’re searching for, and more importantly, what you’re buying. From this search pattern, search engines can then present to you low hanging fruit disguised as online ads.

Their hope is that you will be reeled in, and your hard earned cash disappears out of your wallet and into their coffers instead. It doesn’t stop there. Once hooked, they will come back at you time and time again. They have your email from your previous purchasing history, and an invitation to present again more enticements and offers.

If you’ve seen spam email come across your desktop, more than likely you’ve previously signed onto a website that has unscrupulously sold off your email to a third party. Not all websites are honest and trustworthy. If you control your own web domain, putting a stop to such activity is easy enough by putting rule-blockers in place that target the domains of spam emails that come through, and you can delete them before they make it through to your email client. If you’re signed on at Gmail, yahoo, Hotmail etc, there is no chance of resolving it.

So, what can you do to alleviate this assault on your Internet activity? There are definitely a few tricks up the sleeves, but more than likely, a change of web surfing habits is required on your part.

VPN
Are you using a VPN to hook out onto the Internet? If you are, excellent. That’s half the battle won. If not, get educated, and sign up to a reputable VPN provider now. There are many contenders out there. Do some homework. Once you are surfing through a VPN connection 100% of the time (like I do), you will wonder why you didn’t set this up ages ago. Check out: TorGuard, PIA (Private Internet Access), NordVPN or ExpressVPN for starters. You can get a 12-month account for around $40. If you have more than one device which hooks out onto the Internet, a single account enabling (say) 5 devices is usually the norm, meaning your household is safe.

CHANGE YOUR SEARCH ENGINE
It doesn’t matter what web browser you use (that’s another topic for another day), but what you should do is to use a Search Engine that doesn’t follow you everywhere you go. If you use Google, Bing, and Yahoo, get off those three immediately! These search engines harvest everything you do through your web browser, particularly if you are not using a VPN. You will be horrified as to the extent your search history is harvested, unfettered.

From my experience, the Go-To search engine to use is Duck Duck Go. Most web browsers include DDG in their search engine offerings, but if not, you can easily download it. Google Chrome, Chromium and Vivaldi all come from the same family of web design (with a few subtle changes), and all three can have DDG set up as the default search engine. Do it, and change it now.

When using it, you will notice that no ads are displayed down the right-hand side. Neither does DDG have any means to track you through your various searches. It’s part of their online policy, and aren’t we glad for that!

USING EXTENSIONS
When using extensions with a web browser, users should keep these to the absolute bare minimum. Over-use of extensions will draw additional memory usage from your computer’s RAM, eventually bringing your web browser to a standstill, particularly if the browser is kept open for a long time. Keep these to a minimum, say 4 or 5.

To further prevent Big Business from wreaking havoc on your web browser, these are a handful of very good extensions which should be used:

  • HTTPS Everywhere (TOR uses this)
  • No Script (TOR uses this, though this extension is only available for Firefox)
  • Privacy Badger or Ghostery (one or the other)
  • Facebook Ad Block (various flavours of these)

HTTPS Everywhere ensures that all websites are read as ‘secure’. This is very handy when dealing with sites that have e-carts, wallets, and other payment systems. If logged onto to an unsecured site, your payment details such as Paypal or Credit Card information is at risk. Always ensure that the website has a lock key associated with it when surfing, or that the web address is prefixed by an https. Check for both if unsure.

USING FACEBOOK, TWITTER and GOOGLE SERVICES

FACEBOOK
If you need to use Facebook, ensure that you do so while using a VPN service. Try to avoid going to Facebook without a VPN, as they are super-harvesters of personal information. With no VPN, your information is harvested, with a VPN and using Duck Duck Go + good privacy related extensions, Big Business and the Facebook AI are shut out.

When on Facebook, keep your personal information limited as far as Public Access is concerned. Review your privacy settings rigorously. Just because others open their doors and windows to the whole wide world doesn’t mean you should. Put it this way, you don’t leave your house every day to go to work and leave all the windows and doors open for anyone to waltz on through with unhindered access?

GOOGLE SERVICES
Yes, I will admit to using Google’s YouTube service. I sign in, but I do so when using a VPN. For Google Maps, the service will ask you to enable GPS. Just say no. You can use Google Maps without requiring your GPS being turned on.

The other thing Google does is keep all of your web history in a single place, attached to your user account. They say that only you can access it, but we all know that’s not true. If Google was ever asked to provide access to any of the Alphabet Soup agencies, you can bet your bottom dollar they will.

To remove your history, follow these steps:

  1. https://myaccount.google.com/ [login with your user credentials]
  2. Toward the bottom, within the block ‘My Activity’, click on: Go to My Activity
  3. If you click on Other Google Activity in the left-side menu, you are able to delete things like Maps history, what info is held on your smart phone, YouTube feedback and manage Ads (you should set this to No).

Having no history on Google and ensuring that you keep it off is an ongoing exercise, but it can be done.

Unfortunately, these steps don’t help us to avoid those new mid-video ads which play on both Facebook and YouTube. I’m sure for many of you, these are extremely annoying and a time waster.

TWITTER
I’ve only started using Twitter again after a few years away. Like Facebook, I keep the VPN switched on, and do not allow GPS services. The other thing Twitter does is enable you to engage at a very private level with anyone and everyone. This is an environment where flame wars will often erupt. If you don’t have a need to be here, get off it.

As mentioned, it’s a constant battle to keep on top of things if personal privacy is an issue for you. It is for me and millions of others, which is why we are trying to keep one step ahead of the wolfpack.

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