Our internet use says a lot about all of us. From doing our jobs to embracing our hobbies, we now rely on the web more than ever. That’s why your internet browsing privacy is so important.
From accessing email and social media to using search engines such as Google and Bing to answer all manner of questions, right now, internet consumption is at an all-time high.
While desktop internet use is slowly declining, mobile internet consumption has skyrocketed in recent years. As of 2021, we now spend a reported average of two and a half hours or more browsing the internet on our mobile devices every day.
With this in mind, should we be concerned about our internet browsing privacy? Read on to find out.
Internet browsing privacy
For many years, you could’ve been forgiven for thinking that internet browsing privacy was only a concern for those partaking in more questionable or highly personal online activities.
However, in 2021, the reality is that internet browsing privacy should be a concern for all of us.
Successfully accessing the internet in privacy starts, as you might expect, with your web browser. Different browsers offer different in-browser privacy settings.
As such, it’s important to choose one that aligns with your internet browsing privacy goals, either by default or through one or more customized settings.
Who should be concerned about their internet browsing privacy?
While for some people, internet browsing privacy represents only a relatively minor concern, it can be vital for others. For example, for survivors of abuse and those who’ve been stalked in the past, protecting every facet of their private life is very often of the utmost importance.
This includes, at least to some degree, their internet browsing privacy; a particular worry when there’s a risk that a past abuser may be able to monitor their movements and other activities via the web.
More generally, internet browsing privacy should also pose a particular concern to parents of young children or those responsible for the welfare of other vulnerable individuals.
While the risk is relatively low of most people coming to physical harm as a result of compromised internet browsing privacy, there are a number of other potentially serious threats facing all of us. Among those threats? Fraud and blackmail.
The risk of falling victim to fraud due to lax internet browsing privacy has never been higher. Individual hackers and even whole organizations of criminals are now more committed than ever to fleecing unsuspecting members of the public by exploiting their ignorance surrounding internet browsing privacy.
Much the same is true of internet browsing privacy and blackmail. By minimizing your digital footprint by employing one or more measures devoted to improved internet browsing privacy, you’re mitigating much of the risk of falling prey to such activities.
Three steps to more robust internet browsing privacy
Step 1: Use a secure web browser
Either choose a browser with security at its core, such as Brave or Tor, or pick a more mainstream option that’s noted for its robust privacy settings.
Remember, this applies not just to desktop browsers but the browsers that you use on any mobile devices, too.
Step 2: Make the most of your browser’s security settings
While web browsers focused first and foremost on privacy should offer stand-out protection from the get-go, more mainstream options, such as Google Chrome, may need a little tweaking.
Look for ‘do not track’ settings, choose to opt-out of third-party advertiser cookies, and disable anything tied to behavioral monitoring for the greatest peace of mind.
Step 3: Delete your web browser history after using shared devices
When using a shared device, it’s a good idea to always delete your browser history once you’re done.
This prevents a subsequent user from inadvertently accessing any online accounts that you may have left logged in. That includes social networks such as Facebook and websites like Amazon, where it’s possible that they could, knowingly or otherwise, make one or more purchases while still logged in as you.
At the same time, this practice further minimizes your risk of fraud or blackmail, particularly when using not just a shared device but one that’s also available for public use.
When using a shared or public device to get online, where the option exists, do so in that device’s primary web browser’s private or incognito mode. Just one of the many benefits of these modes is that no history is saved by default, so there’s no need to delete anything once you’re finished. That way, there’s also no chance of you forgetting.
Other internet browsing privacy considerations
Entirely aside from, for example, the risk of fraud or blackmail, there are several other internet browsing privacy considerations to keep in mind.
Whether online or not, we’re all entitled to our privacy.
First, ask yourself this: Would you share how much you earn with your friends and family? Your political leanings? Your sexual preferences?
For some people, this won’t be a concern, but for others, having this information known, even by those closest to them, could be potentially extremely damaging.
By employing a sensible degree of internet browsing privacy, you can more safely keep this and other personal forms of information to yourself.
Secondly, and completely separate to internet browsing privacy, is security more generally. Remember only ever to use safe, secure networks to prevent the risk not only of your internet browsing activity becoming compromised, but your devices, too.
Almost all internet-enabled devices are now susceptible to malicious software variants including ransomware and spyware.
Protect yourself with up-to-date antivirus tools and, again, be sure to connect exclusively to trusted networks, such as your home internet connection or the data network provided by your cell phone carrier.
A third point, meanwhile, concerns an individual’s right not to be monetized by large corporations or spied upon unnecessarily by the world’s governments.
By taking steps to prevent this sort of monetization via your browsing choices and behavior, you’re also largely removing yourself from the prospect of becoming subject to mass government surveillance.
According to the team at end-to-end encrypted email service, ProtonMail, more than 20 million of their users have now opted out of needlessly allowing themselves to be monetized and subjected to mass surveillance in this manner.
“You may not feel you have anything to hide, but privacy is a right you are entitled to,” suggests a ProtonMail representative.
That’s certainly food for thought.
Frequently asked questions about internet browsing privacy
Is private browsing mode really private?
For the most part, yes. It protects you from unnecessary snooping of your browsing history and stops you from leaving any tracks on a computer or other device about the websites you’ve visited.
What it cannot do, though, is stop other applications from monitoring you. If that’s a concern, you’ll need to look further into those applications’ privacy settings themselves.
How do I keep my internet browsing private?
The easiest way to do this is to simply enable your web browser’s relevant ‘private’ mode. Most browsers now offer this, and while it’s not a perfect solution for those seeking complete privacy on all fronts, it’ll suffice for the vast majority of web users.
For those seeking complete discretion, or for an added degree of internet browsing privacy, you’ll want to look into using a virtual private network or VPN.
What’s the best web browser to use for privacy?
Largely considered to be the best browser for overall privacy is Brave. For customizable privacy, try Firefox, while the best browser for maximum security is often considered to be Tor.
Also worthy of a mention, according to those in the know, are Internet Explorer’s replacement, Microsoft Edge, and Apple’s browser, Safari. Both have reportedly made leaps and bounds in terms of privacy and security in recent years.
Can someone see my internet history if I use their wireless network?
If the owner of the wireless network in question is so inclined to look, then yes, in effect, they can. Wireless routers keep logs, so should its owner or network administrator check, they’ll be able to see what websites you’ve opened.
A more nefarious network administrator may also be able to use what’s known as a packet sniffer to intercept your private data. For this reason especially, it’s crucial, as already mentioned above, only ever to use networks that you trust.
Can wireless network owners see what sites I visited even in private browsing mode?
Again, yes. Private browsing modes only prevent snooping on your device, not the network.
Once more, another reason to remember to use only networks that you know for certain can be trusted.
Periodically review all aspects of your internet browsing behavior and be sure to tailor your privacy measures accordingly.
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