These are a couple of easy steps to increase your privacy on a desktop or laptop. Even if you implement just a few of these, your online privacy will improve
As services have increasingly moved online, browsers have become one of the most important tools in people's online lives. If you care about your privacy you do not want to use a browser made by a company whose entire business model is based on hoovering up as much personal data as they can.
The Firefox browser, the open source browser not owned by one of the tech giants but developed by a community overseen by the non-profit Mozilla organisation, is a browser that takes user privacy very seriously.
The Firefox extension 'uBlock Origin' is a modern adblocker that helps keep evasive ads and trackers in check. Don't forget to whitelist those sites that do behave and that rely on advertising to keep them going.
Cookies can be really useful to remember your logins or some of your settings on a site. They can also be used to track every single detail about your visit and remember it for next time.
With a Firefox extension such as 'Cookie AutoDelete' you can choose yourself which cookies will be kept between sessions and which should automatically be deleted.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have produced the Privacy Badger extension that provides an extra defense against visible and invisible trackers.
We probably don't need to tell you that Google's search engine is not the best choice if you care about privacy.
Alternative search engine DuckDuckGo calls itself 'The search engine that doesn't track you' and should be considered a vital step towards more online privacy. Unfortunately it is not as good as Google so might not be a 100% replacement. Setting DuckDuckGo as the default search engine and only switching to Google when DDG does not find what you were looking for makes a big difference.
Even better, if you search in DuckDuckGo but use g! at the end of your search query DuckDuckGo will use Google for your query to make things easier.
Once you have reduced the data you send to Google it makes sense to remove the data Google has already collected about you. We'll never know if they still keep some data they hold on you behind but it is better than nothing.
More details in our guide on reducing your Google footprint.
While Facebook has ways to track you, even if you're not a Facebook user, it's best to log out of Facebook each time you're done. If you use the Self-Destructing Cookies extension any Facebook cookie should be deleted after you have logged out, making tracking slightly harder.
DNS servers are the directory of the Internet. They tell your computer where to go when you want to visit a site. Unfortunately this also makes them ideally positioned to keep track of which sites you visit.
Typically people use the DNS servers that are provided by their broadband provider. Not happy with their broadband provider's DNS servers, some people have changed their DNS servers to those of Google. Needless to say, anyone who is privacy conscious should not be sending information about every site they visit, every mail or chat service they use or any software update they perform to Google. If you have set your DNS servers as 184.108.40.206, 220.127.116.11, 2001:4860:4860::8888 or 2001:4860:4860::8844 that is precisely what you are doing.
Fortunately, the OpenNIC Project provides free to use DNS servers that don't log all your visits.
Check them out at www.OpenNIC.org
DropBox has a track record of scanning your data and handing it over to the police. It is common for online services –particularly American ones– to cooperate with the police based on simple requests. DropBox, however, has shown in the past that they go a step further by voluntarily and pro-actively handing over customer data that they found suspicious. They can only do this if they proactively scan all their customer's data.
Looking for a more secure alternative? Try Tresorit instead. Based in Switzerland, outside of the Patriot Act's jurisdiction, they provide zero knowledge online storage. This means that Tresorit doesn't have the encryption key you use so they could not access your data even if they wanted to. The downside is that if you forget your password, your data has truly become inaccessible.
Check out Tresorit