Being anonymous on today’s internet isn’t something just for hackers, law enforcement, and criminals. Far from it, anonymizing oneself online is soon to become the norm. The spirit of our times indicates we are in a digital age where our data is no longer safe or private. For this reason, the world is slowly starting to protect itself better and take care of its right to data privacy. There is an entire sector out there dedicated to just that, which offers cybersecurity tools such as VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and anonymous browsers, and teaches cybersecurity and privacy awareness. However, what about sneaky little things one often does not think about? Like ads and data collection? How about online tracking? These are the more hidden aspects of the vast, chaotic space that is the internet, which tend to siphon data mercilessly from billions of us all the time in a sneaky fashion.
Not only is this a breach of privacy in that your consent online does not mean much (yes, the consent boxes are as good as useless), but it is also a breach of security. In this case, there are a few things you can do. You could use a proxy because a proxy can help with anonymity. Along those lines, you could also use a VPN combined with an anonymity browser. You could combine all those things into a thick defense wall that you can use for cover! There are also several settings to fine-tune that can leave your head spinning! So many ways to leave the sneaky data collection mechanisms in the dust, but so little time! Let’s talk about that.
What is Data Collection?
Online data collection is, some would argue, a form of espionage. Others would argue that it is a breach of privacy and security. Truth be told, both of these claims are true. There are dozens of companies out there whose sole purpose is to harvest as much data about users as possible in a highly data-dependent society. The ads business, for instance, makes billions of dollars each year (but produces nothing tangible). Such is the nature of the digital world, and it will keep on accelerating until artificial intelligence passively controls all of these mechanisms.
So, what is data collection? It is a process of collecting various types of data about users. It is also about measuring, gathering and the analysis of that data for other uses. Sometimes, those uses can be the sale of that data to other parties. The online world is structured so that many companies make use of market research and user behavior data to benefit their businesses. Google, Amazon, eBay and similar market leaders always do that to expand their power and product base.
The data collected about you online (if you do not apply the measures we recommend in the next section) can include personally identifiable information (PII) about you. The danger here is that these details can be leaked. For instance, your name, address, email, social security number, you name it. There can be other details there, like your location and your IP (router’s address) too! Whatever you’ve shared with an entity on the internet can be damaging to you. Why have this kind of data in the hands of people you don’t even know?
Can You Actually Opt-Out?
Now, we come to the elephant in the room. Can you opt out of a process like this? Furthermore, is there a way to stop these data collection algorithms from unnecessarily harvesting information about you, your friends, or your family? Well, the good news is that, yes, there is a way to do this today. Before we get into it, though, remember that you do not need to be 100% invisible. This is actually almost impossible to do. On the other hand, what you want is that sensitive information about you is not put out there, and you want to browse the internet in as secure a fashion as possible.
To do this, you will need a few tools in addition to some common sense. First of all, you can simply launch an online search to opt-out of online marketing. There are initiatives online that you should opt out of, such as; the Network Advertising Initiative, Google’s ad preferences, Yahoo, Vibrant Media, BlueKai, Bizo, Exelate and many others. You need to visit each of these and manually opt out of tracking and data collection. Some of these are massive marketing alliances that collect tons of data all over the internet. Unfortunately, every time you visit a website, one of these trackers will stick to your system.
Next, you need a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and a good privacy browser. For these choices, most experts recommend a VPN software such as NordVPN or Surfshark that encrypt and anonymize your internet connection. This is crucial for security and a good, clean connection. With a VPN, you can set your internet connection’s IP address (physical address details) to reflect another country. You can also use it to get discounts online.
Next, get a good privacy browser that eliminates your online trail and blocks third-party trackers such as Mozilla Firefox or Brave. Some extensions for your browser will help, such as ad blocking extensions, Ublock origin to remove webRTC and webGL traces, and even opt-out “keepers.” Using a default browser is no longer the best option.
In conclusion, it is unbelievable how difficult it has become to keep a sanitized form of web browsing these days. The internet has become like an enormous megacity, both with its good side and bad sides. It is filled with trash while also being the most democratic platform we have, with the largest amount of knowledge offered for free in many cases. In the end, it is up to us to hassle ourselves a bit and reach an optimal level of browsing hygiene because manufacturers and organizations will not do that for us.