Practical Internet Privacy and Security

Originally published December 23, 2013

I find some conflict between my desire to take advantage of services from Google, Twitter, Facebook, and some other web properties and my desire for maintaining some reasonable amount of privacy. To be sure these services are not free because these companies make money from information about us. This blog post contains my own practical approach to using these services.

The multiple web browser approach

I use three web browsers on a regular basis:

  • Chrome - I run Chrome with default privacy settings and only use Chrome for accessing Google, Twitter and Facebook services. These companies are very capable of tracking activities on the web. I consciously allow them to track me while using their services.
  • Firefox - I use Firefox for my web browsing. I run Firefox in a very secure privacy mode using the Ghostery plugin to block tracking. Under the Firefox preferences, I set the maximum security settings.
  • Opera - I only use Opera for my online banking. I am not sure, but it seems logical that using a separate web browser for just online banking makes this more secure.
When I am doing my usual web browsing with Firefox, I do not click "Likes" or Google "+" links. If I really like what someone has written then I will email them and engage them directly in a real conversation.

Using web services as a paying customer

I am a very happy customer of Evernote and Dropbox. The $150 per year total that I pay them for their services is well worth it. I am not going to discuss their services, but rather why I feel comfortable using their services:

  • Encryption that I can control - I backup sensitive files on Dropbox using a bash shell script that ZIPs and GPG encrypts bits of sensitive information that I want to both back up and share between computers that I use. This shell script when it runs creates about five encrypted files and pushes them to Dropbox. I am a programmer so I am almost always working in a shell window and it takes about 5 seconds to run the bash script. So sensitive data never gets sent to Dropbox un-encrypted. The Evernote service also allows local encryption of any part of any note: just select whatever is sensitive and use the menu "Edit -> Encrypt Selected Text..."
  • Privacy policies - I feel comfortable with the privacy and terms of use policies of both Dropbox and Evernote.
  • Paying customer - Since I am a paying customer I can understand how these companies make money and "keep the lights on."

Own your own web properties

A little off topic from Internet privacy, but my other advice to friends and family members is to own your own content on the web. That is, stake out your property on the web under a domain that you own and using web hosting that you both control and can change anytime you want.

Have a good idea that you want to share? Then write about it on your web site or on your blog that you control hosted under your own domain. When I write something that I want to share, I put it on my own web property, and use the Chrome web browser to access Google+, Facebook, and Twitter to link to whatever I wrote. This just makes good sense to me: own and control your stuff.


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