Today's technology makes life easier and more fun, but unfortunately, the companies behind it are greedy with our data. Between targeted ads and recommendation algorithms, there really aren't too many private places left online.
To surf the web anonymously, you need to hide your search history and browsing activity. Your browser's built-in settings can help, but how "private" is this mode, really?
In reality, staying under the radar requires more than opening up an incognito window. We'll show you how to keep your identity hidden from advertisers and data firms, plus a way to keep the websites you're visiting from knowing who and where you are.
Private browsing: What it does and what it doesn't
So what is private browsing? Nearly every web browser on the market offers the feature, which usually takes the form of an alternate window that opens up — complete with a darker color scheme and "disguise" iconography.
Chrome calls its privacy option Incognito Mode. Firefox and Safari call theirs Private Browsing Mode. On Microsoft Edge, it's InPrivate Mode. Despite the differences in name, they're all fundamentally the same feature.
Private browsing blocks a few things from view. For starters, your search history, autofill fields, and cookies are automatically blocked in private mode.
Cookies are the primary identifying agents of the internet, and typically contain small bits of information about your browsing sessions. By removing cookies from the equation, you become much harder to track.
But when it comes to the internet providers and corporations that monitor your internet use, they have plenty more tools to identify individual internet users and what they're doing online.
Even with an incognito window open, your provider can still see your IP address, your location, local time and device type in order to build a rough profile about who you are and how you use the internet. That means you aren't truly private if you're relying on private browsing modes to conceal your identity.
How can I actually browse privately?
To enjoy the internet without the threat of being tracked, you'll have to get a bit more creative than relying on your browser's privacy mode. You'll need to make sure your internet connection is being routed anonymously rather than simply masked by your browser. Fortunately, there are a few different ways you can accomplish this.
Go dark with the Tor Browser
Tor Browser is a popular pick for the privacy-minded and even used by many to access the Dark Web. While you may not use it to hide illicit activity, you can use tech that gives you the same anonymity.
With Tor, your connection is bounced across multiple different computer networks, making it difficult for ISPs and governments to track where any given data is coming from or going to.
The downside? This can slow down your connection speed. If you're patient enough, though, the Tor browser may be just the solution you're looking for.
Search privately with DuckDuckGo
If going fully private isn't a priority and you just want to search without annoying ad trackers following you, we recommend DuckDuckGo.
This search engine is designed explicitly for privacy and won't track you or sell your search information. For an even more private search, use DuckDuckGo along with your browser's private browsing mode.
Just make sure not to log in to Facebook or any other social network — those sites use their own tracking to watch your activity online.
Go private for real
VPNs are an essential tool for privacy-conscious internet users. Short for virtual private network, a VPN routes your internet connection through another network, which hides the true origins of the data and keeps your identity hidden. This makes it one of the most effective ways to browse the internet without giving anything up.
Choosing a VPN, however, is another matter entirely. Some browsers, like Mozilla Firefox, have their own VPN built right in. It's currently in beta but for a limited time, U.S. users have a chance to experience it before the final version is released.
Bonus: The only VPN Kim trusts
If you're looking for a more robust, permanent VPN solution that doesn't sacrifice connection speed for privacy, we recommend our sponsor, ExpressVPN. Compared to other VPN services on the market, ExpressVPN is fast, safe and secure for whatever your internet needs may be.
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3 ways to search the web without Google tracking you
“Google” has become synonymous with “finding information.” But even the mighty Google has its drawbacks, especially if you value your privacy. The world’s most famous search site is also known for saving your search history, reading your email, and tracking what you click. Before you break out the torches and pitchforks, try these alternatives.