Private browsing: How to surf the web without big brother watching

There is such a thing as anonymity on the web. Nico De Pasquale Photography/Flickr

Thanks to things like targeted advertising and data collection many of us have become increasingly concerned about “big brother” watching our every move.

Canadians are handing over more data than ever by performing everyday tasks like asking Google a question, or scrolling through Facebook. But there are ways to browse the web more privately — and you don’t need to be an expert to use them.

Use a private browser window

All web browsers save a record of what websites you visit and what you download — but many also offer private browsing modes that disable those features.

For example, Google Chrome’s “incognito mode” — which is available on both desktop and mobile versions — opens a new browser window that prevents Google from saving your browser history.

Apple’s Safari web browser also includes a “private” mode that you can use on your iPhone or iPad. To use it, tap on the “open new window” icon, located at the bottom right of your Safari browser, and then tap “Private.”

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However, it’s important to note that private browsing mode only prevents your web browser from saving your history — it does not stop third parties, like your Internet service provider or your employer, from seeing you browsing activity.

Ditch Google and try a search engine that lets you search privately

There are a number of search engine alternatives that allow you to search privately, without handing over a ton of personal information.

DuckDuckGo is one of the most popular choices for the privacy conscious. The search engine does not collect or share personal information, including your computer’s IP address or cookies (data sent from a website to your web browser to help identify you), which means your searches can’t be traced back to you.

Similar options include Ixquick and Startpage.

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Another benefit to private web searches — there are no targeted ads.

Try a virtual private network (VPN)

You’ve probably already heard about VPN services – a lot of Canadians have used them to stream U.S. Netflix, which has more Hollywood blockbusters and recent seasons of popular network shows than the Canadian version.

VPNs are used by many individuals and companies to keep internal data and communications secure. They do this by encrypting your computer’s Internet connection to prevent third parties from snooping on your data.

VPNs are more commonly used to protect your data from cybercriminals and are highly recommended by security experts if you often use public WiFi where hackers often lurk. However, these services are subscription-based.

Use a web proxy

Web proxies allow you to visit a website anonymously by hiding your IP address and encrypting your connection to a website.

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Free service Anonymouse allows you to enter the web address of any website you want to visit to surf it anonymously. Instead of transmitting you computer’s information directly to the website, your data is sent to the Anonymouse server. Their server anonymizes it and then sends it to the website.

Review your privacy settings on your favourite websites

A growing number of websites and services allow you to take some control of your data privacy — you just have to know where to look.

For example, when you are logged into a Google account you are able to opt out of Google ad personalization, which shows you relevant ads based on what you search for and which websites you visit. You can control some of your ad settings here.

READ MORE: Here’s how to delete your most embarrassing searches from Google’s memory

Plus, Google recently unveiled a tool that shows you a chronological list of your activities on Google’s service, from your YouTube history, to your Google Map data — and it even allows you to delete select searches or your entire history, if you are logged into a Google account.

You can also control some ad settings on Facebook. Simply go to the “Settings” tab on your Facebook page — located at the top right-hand side of the page beside the lock icon.

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READ MORE: Here’s how Facebook determines what ads to show you

Next, select “Adverts” from the menu on the left-hand side. Then click the edit button beside “Adverts based on my preferences” and select “Visit preferences.”

Voila – a list of things Facebook has flagged as “things we think you care about.”

You can then manually delete items from your list. If you no longer want to see ads about cats, for example, just hover your mouse to the right-hand side of the word and you’ll see a delete button.

Canadian users can also opt out of Facebook’s targeted advertising through the Digital Advertising Alliance of Canada’s website.

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