Web browsing privacy tips

If you post online to Internet forums or social media websites, your privacy is at risk.

Advertisers like to track your every move, and Facebook automatically makes your photos public. Is this what you really want? If not, read on.


What is a browser, anyway?

Before we can discuss tools to enhance privacy, I’ll provide a brief background on web browsers and terminology. A web browser is simply a software application used to visit websites.

Many people use the default browser provided with their operating system, such as Internet Explorer on Windows (which appears on your desktop as a blue “e” icon) or Safari on Mac or iPad (which uses a compass icon). Alternative browsers can be downloaded and installed for free, including Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

All browsers store a certain amount of history about the websites you visit — including addresses, files and images — in a “cache” on your computer, and can also store login credentials or other data in a small file called a “cookie.” History, cache and cookies are convenient methods to make it quicker to visit, load and log in to your favorite websites; however, they also make it possible for advertisers to build a picture of your hobbies and web activities.

There are a few simple steps you can take to protect your privacy no matter which web browser you use. Your browser will have a few settings you should become familiar with. Internet Explorer, for example, has an icon in the upper-right corner of the window that looks like a cog. If you click on this, you should see a dropdown menu, with one of the choices being “Internet Options.” From there you can delete cache, cookies and history, and also select a setting that will do this automatically every time you quit the browser.

Safari has similar options under preferences.


Advanced protection

If you want to go a little further, you may wish to install one of the alternative web browsers I mentioned. Both of these browsers include options to install add-ons called “Extensions.” I like to install an extension called Adblock Plus, which obviously blocks most ads, but also limits what information advertisers can collect about you. If you want to support certain websites, you can turn off ad blocking for just those sites.

Another extension specifically made to enhance privacy is called Ghostery. Ghostery tells you exactly which sites are trying to track you. It can block them all or only the ones you choose.



One particular website worth addressing is Facebook. If you have an account, you will definitely want to modify your privacy settings.

Look for the cog icon in the upper right corner and then select “Privacy Settings.” You should change the settings for “Who can see my stuff” and “Who can look me up” to “Friends only.” You should also turn off search engines linking to your timeline.

Next, look for “Timeline and Tagging Settings” in the left menu. Change all of these to “Friends only.” You can also click the “View As” link to see what your timeline looks like to the public. If there are still photos showing that you don’t want to be public, you should delete them.

The web is a fantastic resource for shopping, planning events and connecting with friends and family, but you need to take an active role in your privacy. Otherwise it’s like living in a glass house.



Tips for secure web browsing

  • Always keep your browser up to date. You can usually find out which version you have, or if there are any updates, by looking for the “About” menu.
  • Disable unneeded plug-ins and toolbars. Extra plug-ins and toolbars can slow down your browser and pose a security risk. These include Active-X and Java. Search the web for how to do this for your particular browser.
  • Use complex passwords and different passwords for different websites. Long passwords, which include a variety of symbols, numbers, and upper- and lowercase characters, are best.
  • Avoid using public computers to log in to any website. Sometimes these computers have been compromised with a virus that can collect your credentials.
  • Make sure your wireless Internet at home is encrypted using WPA security and requires a complex password.

For more information, call the MIS Department at 970-563-0128.

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