I had a conversation with a friend recently about keeping their data safe when browsing the internet. With it being pretty easy for advertisers to install trackers and gather information on anyone, what options do every-day web users have to protect themselves against this process? Below, we look at some privacy-protection solutions and some of the common misconceptions about these popular forms of data protection.
It sounds like they should protect you, but private browsing modes aren’t all that private when dealing with data collection. It’ll keep your history from showing up on your computer (useful if logging into websites on a public computer or if you don’t want people in your household to see what you’re looking up). However, it doesn’t stop your internet service provider (ISP), the network owner- who’s paying the wireless internet bill (such as you, your school, your work, or the Starbucks you frequent, etc.) or website tracker operators from seeing what you’ve searched for. Once you close out your browser window and terminate the session, the cookies, logins, and browsing history associated with that session will be deleted; however, your downloads remain local to your machine unless you manually remove them. Incognito mode and Private browsing modes are the same concepts; they’re just different terminology based on which browser you are using. Incognito is to Chrome as Private browsing is to Firefox, Opera, and Safari.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A virtual private network, or VPN, has been a popular topic the past few years in discussions of data privacy. A VPN encodes your data before it leaves your computer or phone, preventing it from being read until being decoded at a VPN server. Using a VPN is an excellent way to browse in an unsecured area (public WiFi, coffee shop, airports, etc.) or if you are trying to access data not allowed in your country (video streaming services, for instance). The VPN will enable you to keep your browsing from being tracked by your internet ISP, but it does not stop trackers/companies from gathering information on you. Many trackers collect information other than merely your location or ISP and even without your location or ISP, can often still identify you based on your browsing habits.
When selecting to use a VPN, pay attention to how they store their data. Some store and sell your browsing information, much like ISPs have been charged with doing in the past. A VPN may also leak your data instead of protecting it if installed wrong. Using a VPN is a handy tool; however, you should do your research before investing and trusting in one. Our product, Ghostery Midnight, features a VPN in addition to other ad- and tracker-blocking technologies.
A tracker blocker stops trackers from collecting your information. It prevents personally identifiable information, or PII, from being written to a cookie. Ghostery prevents companies from knowing your location, computer type, window size, browser as well as additional information. It also prevents trackers from activating other trackers to join them on web pages. This process, known as “piggy-backing,” causes webpages to take much longer to load. Tracker blockers are an essential part of your overall privacy protection plan. Just like any other privacy-focused tool or service out there, they are best used in conjunction with other like-minded products. Think of the privacy services you select as a suite of specialized tools- all with their unique benefits.
Using the Ghostery Browser Extension is one of the best ways to protect your browsing against trackers and scripts. Both our Enhanced Anti-Tracking and our Smart Blocking technologies eliminate unneeded trackers and stop your PII from being accessed. The Ghostery Browser Extension goes a long way in personal data privacy and can be tailored to fit your secure browsing needs. Give it a spin today!