Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Protecting your privacy while you search and browse the Internet

Did you know that every time you visit a website, your privacy is violated? Not only does your Internet provider know where you've been, but every single site you visit keeps a log with identifying information. :Law enforcement, hackers, and various other interested parties can use those logs to piece together everything from evidence of a crime to a fairly complete and accurate psychological profile based on where you've been, how long you stayed, and what you clicked on next.  It's a privacy nightmare.

In my last post on privacy, I discussed some ways to mitigate the privacy violating policies of many popular sites like Google, Facebook, and MySpace. Unfortunately, that advice can only go so far as just about every single website you visit is going to keep a log of that visit. And, while most don't keep these logs for long, there's no real way to determine how long they do keep them or what they do with them.

I'm a huge proponent of using good security. I believe you should protect your privacy even if you have nothing to hide; perhaps especially if you have nothing to hide. That's why I've been using StartPage.com as my primary search engine for a while now and it's why I recommended it as an alternative to Google in my last post.  But as I use the service, things just keep getting better. This morning is a good example of that when I discovered proxied browsing through StartPage.

Normally, when you click on the link for a search result, your browser is transferred to whatever site you clicked on. Your ISP logs that visit, the search engine you used to find the site logs that visit, and, of course, the site logs that visit, all associated with your unique internet address.  Proxied browsing through StartPage allows you to securely click on a search result, visit the site, and never leave a trace that you've been there.

When you use StartPage's 'proxy' links, the service acts as your agent and inserts itself between whatever website you're going to and you.  From your ISP's point of view, you've only visited StartPage, from the target websites' point of view, it is only being visited by StartPage. No record of your visit is EVER recorded anywhere - not even by StartPage. It's SSL encrypted so your browsing session can't be snooped on, no cookies are stored on your computer, and no records are kept. It's the perfect secure browsing solution.

As fantastic as the service is, it's not without its faults. In many cases, you won't be able to submit web forms because they require certain information about you that StartPage isn't willing to offer up. You'll also take a slight speed hit since your browser isn't actually loading the target page itself but waiting on StartPage to fetch it and feed it back to the browser. Overall though, the service is zippy and useful and I haven't experienced any problems using it with most of the websites I visit regularly.

Using proxied browsing through StartPage is easy. Do a search like normal and, instead of clicking the result link, click the "Proxy" link under the result. That will open the target website in proxied mode and you are completely protected. You can click links on the site, even be transferred to other site by links and you're still protected.

If you're noticing a trend in these security post, you're probably right in your observation: security requires a little extra work. You'll have to change the way you do things sometimes because, unfortunately, the most convenient way to do things on the Internet is usually the least secure. That's by design, don't be fooled.  Take a little extra time and effort to protect yourself and you can rest at night knowing that your privacy has not been violated.

It is well worth the extra work and you're actually making society better for all of us by doing it.

1 comment:

badthing1 said...

Thank you for an enlightening education, Anthony.