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Security & privacy

5 ways to keep your online searches private

Everyone wants to keep their online searches private, but many people don’t quite know how.

You might think you’re protecting yourself — and any embarrassing or private queries — by using incognito mode, but that only goes so far. Tap or click here to see what incognito mode is good for, and what it can’t do.

There are steps you can take to keep your searches buttoned up, from wiping what you look for to going fully private with a VPN. Let’s jump in.

1. Private browsing mode

Despite its name, don’t get too excited. While private browsing mode will give you some privacy, it doesn’t keep everything secure.

In Google Chrome, this is called Incognito Mode. When you’re in the private browsing mode of any browser, including Firefox and Safari, it won’t save history, cookies or form data.

That’s nice because what you look for is wiped off your system locally when you close down your browser. That keeps your auto-fill suggestions clean and means you can shop for a gift without giving away the secret. Have you ever had that moment where a loved one gets on your computer and gets spoiled just based on the ads that pop up?

But your internet service provider, the websites you visit and even Google still have access to everything you do in these so-called private modes.

2. Go with an alternative

If you really want privacy, look to a search service other than Google, Bing or the other mainstream options.

StartPage calls itself “the world’s most private search engine.” The Netherlands-based company pays Google for the use of its search algorithm but strips out the tracking and advertising that usually comes along with it. You get a Google-like experience, along with the promise that your data will never be stored, tracked or sold.

Test it out at startpage.com. You can also set StartPage as your browser’s default search engine.

DuckDuckGo is another option that doesn’t track you the way Google does. It doesn’t allow targeted advertising, research results are not based on your search history and you’ll see fewer ads based on your search.

It’s easy to use and install, too, with an extension that plugs in with all the major browsers. You can also search at duckduckgo.com.

3. Wipe your browsing history

Aside from being tracked by companies and your ISP, there are other reasons you don’t want people to see your browser history. Perhaps you need to look up something private (and embarrassing) or you don’t want to spoil a surprise.

You may use your computer for both work and personal endeavors and want to keep them separate and private. Deleting your browsing history is the perfect way to do this.

There are steps to follow for each browser and even your social media accounts. Tap or click here for all the steps you need for Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari and more.

4. Hide yourself with a VPN

In 2017, the House of Representatives voted to end the Federal Communications Commission’s rules that stopped ISPs from selling your search data. Soon after, searches for VPNs skyrocketed. Fast forward to today and those in the know realize a VPN is the only way to keep what you do online truly private.

What is a VPN? A virtual private network is a layer of protection between your devices and the internet. It hides your IP address and your location.

It also encrypts your data after it leaves your device and travels to whatever website you’re visiting. Plus, a VPN is great to connect to on public Wi-Fi since it turns an unsecured connection into one that’s safer to use.

A word of caution: Some VPNs collect and sell your data just like all the companies you’re trying to avoid. Be sure to choose a reputable service. We recommend ExpressVPN, a sponsor of Kim’s national radio show.

It’s private, secure and doesn’t slow you down. Use Kim’s link to get three extra months free when you sign up for a year.

5. Use a privacy-focused browser

You can go a step further and download the Tor Browser. The Tor Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your privacy online.

You may know Tor as the browser used to access the Dark Web. That doesn’t mean it’s nefarious by nature.

Wondering what’s on the Dark Web? Tap or click here for steps on how to access it as well as what you’ll find.

With Tor, your browser history and cookies are cleared after every browsing session. It also unblocks restricted websites and encrypts every website three times before you visit it. You can download or learn more about Tor here if you’re interested.

If it feels like your privacy is tough to hold onto, well, you’re right. But you can take steps to secure yourself. With a little effort, you can keep Big Tech and all those advertisers out of your business.

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