We all have lifes online, but we are also usually complacent when it comes to privacy concerns.

For most computer users, the privacy invasions happen all the time, without the knowledge, and sometimes consent, of the end user. There is lots of software out there that keeps this threat dynamic, meaning that you can update your software and patch things, but you will always be one step behind the agents of chaos. In other words, virus makers and online theives have the upper hand. But there is hope!

I am going to outline some of the ways that privacy gets trampeled on and then suggest practical solutions.

What is privacy?

Put simply, privacy is about being in control of your information. It is about gaurding important data like social security numbers, bank accounts, and even the family photo album.

In a perfect world, everybody could expose themselves completely without risking anything, but that is not the world we live in. In 2013, we saw the unwinding of the NSA programs that monitor U.S. citizens abroad and even at home. But there are vast networks of data mining companies that invade your privacy in a much less publicised manner.


There are numerous ways to protect your privacy online. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet.

The first step is to use a privacy-friendly browser. I recommend Firefox, but Chrome can work as well. The reason for this is that you can extend the native abilities of these browsers with plugins that will actively hide your personal data. Here are a few of the plugins for Firefox that I recommend.

1. Do Not Track Me – This plugin works in the background to block tracking cookies that various websites use to follow your web surfing habits. Most of these cookies linger on your computer for 30 days and advertisers use this information to target specific ads based on what you’ve been looking at. You may have noticed that you were looking at some boots on Macys.com and then you see ads for boots when you are checking your email in Gmail. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly is a bit creepy. You can install the Do Not Track Me plugin for firefox here.

2. HTTPS Everywhere – This is another Firefox plugin that I recommend. It essentially forces websites to render in HTTPS. You may have noticed this on popular websites like Facebook, where you have the option to choose HTTPS in your settings (Use it!). This essentially encrypts your data on both ends during transmissions of data so that a hacker, or snooper, can not intercept. Well, they can still intercept your data, but it would just be a random assortment of characters, nothing useful. This protects your passwords and makes sure that your vacation plans sent to a friend through a private message on Facebook are not picked up by would be burglars, for example. You can download it here.

3. Common Sense – This is not a plugin. This is actually just what it says, common sense. Be very mindful of your inbox. Do not open suspicious looking emails, even if they are coming from a friend or family member. This is the number one way that identity theft happens. You’ve probably heard the term, phishing. People will count on your innocence to open their email and then once it is open, they are able to install a virus and take over your privacy remotely. Over the years, most email providers have become adept at filtering these types of emails, but you are particularly vulnerable through email addresses you may have that don’t have stringent spam controls in place (work email, personal blog site email, even your ISP email ‘Charter.com’). I am not suggesting paranoia, please feel free to accept that LinkedIn request from a friend of a friend, but do so with the knowledge of foresight and common sense.

4. Cleanliness – I know several people that would not leave a dirty dish in their sink for more than a couple hours, but their computers are riddled with clutter, junk, and even malicious programs. Don’t be that person. It’s fairly simple to clean up your computer and it should be a regular part of your computer use. The frequency for cleaning is going to largely depend on how much you use your computer, especially online. Almost every website you visit will put a file (or multiple files) on your computer. These accumulate over time and can slow down your computer on top of tracking everything you do which is obviously a violation of your privacy. In Firefox, you can clear all this data easily by pressing Ctrl-Shift-Del. This will open a window where you can select what you want to delete. For the first time, I recommend clearing everything (check all the boxes). You can then clean up just the cookies from then on about once every couple weeks. You can also download programs that do an excellent job of cleaning out all the junk. CCleaner is the recommended program for this, but be careful as it is a powerful program and can do more harm than good if used improperly. I’ll cover the proper use of CCleaner in a future blog post.


Privacy is important. Hopefully I’ve made that abundantly clear in this blog post.

You do have options to guard your privacy but you have to be proactive about it. In most cases, the services you take for granted (your email provider, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) want nothing more than to know everything possible about you. This is how they make money (targeted advertisements). So it is up to you to thwart their efforts and reclaim your privacy.

With the right browser tools, you can keep yourself private 99% of the time. Unfortunately, you will always be vulnerable the other 1% of the time and the only thing you can do in those cases is to remain vigilant and practise safe computing. Don’t open suspicious emails. Don’t visit shady sites (gambling, pornography, prescription drugs, etc.). Most of all, don’t ever give any information that you do not need to give. You should never have to give your password to any company, even if they claim to be from said company. The same goes for your social security number, bank account numbers, and any other peice of information that could come back to haunt you.

If you have any questions, please comment below and I will be happy to address your concerns.

By the way, for full disclosure, this website (like most) does collect basic data on you. I am using Google Analytics to measure website visits and it gives me basic information like what type of device you used to access the site (tablet, desktop, or smartphone), the country you live in, your IP address, and the amount of time that you spent on the site before you clicked away to somewhere else. This is a standard practise on most websites. I will never have personal information on you though (email, age, last name, passwords, etc.) unless you specifically supply it to me. If you install the Do Not Track Me plugin for Firefox mentioned above, you can easily opt out of this.