Perpetual Privacy Project Guide

Big thanks to Brian A. Wilkins for writing, compiling this.

RELEASED APRIL 7, 2017

Browsers 101: The Basics

About 42% of web users access the internet with some version of Google Chrome. Another 16% use Microsoft Internet Explorer, with Firefox, Safari and other browsers making up the rest. Every one of the aforementioned browsers keeps track of every website and page you visit. The longer you allow this search history to sit there, the more opportunity it give ISPs to farm and sell your data.

ALWAYS clear your browsing history before logging off and shutting down your device. It literally takes seconds. On Chrome mobile, simply touch the three vertical dots on the right side of the URL address bar, then touch history. A “clear browsing data” option will be at the bottom of the screen. Just follow the prompts from there. For the desktop version, click History on the menu at the top of the screen, then “Clear browsing history” on the left side. Always delete everything from the beginning of time. Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer have similar processes to delete browsing history. If you’ve never done this before, it may take a few minutes to clear everything, but your browser will also work a lot faster afterwards. Once you clear your browsing data, either shut down or restart your device. Thousands of companies are already sharing your internet habits with other companies. Its no coincidence that you just searched “sub-zero sleeping bags” on Google, then went on Facebook and saw a Bass Pro Shop sleeping bag sale in your timeline.

Unfortunately due to people’s browsing habits, clearing your browsing history is not enough to ensure its gone. Approximately half of the entire world’s internet-using population gets their email through some Apple-owned client. Gmail and its Google Android client own a 30% market share for email client usage in the world. Whenever you are logged into Gmail and browsing the web, Google keeps a separate browsing history independent of what Chrome, Firefox or whatever browser you’re using collects.

First, always log out of Gmail when you’re not using it. It’s also a good idea to log out of Facebook, Amazon, Ebay and any other social and shopping websites that openly share users’ browsing history with one another. Second, make sure you delete anything Google has already collected and change the settings so it no longer collects your information. Here is a good article with photos explaining how to delete the history Google has already collected and to stop them from further collection.

The best way to keep your browsing information private is to limit the use of all the aforementioned browsers or stop using them altogether. Tor is a free, open-source, anonymous browser that never collects browsing data. It also creates pseudo-locations (third-party IP addresses) as to where you’re accessing the web. In other words, you could be browsing the web at home on Comcast (Xfinity) broadband in San Francisco, but the geolocation in Tor will indicate you are in London, Paris, Dubai or somewhere else on Tor’s distributed network. Keep in mind its harder (slower) to watch videos on Tor because of how your connection is bounced from several relays. But you can do everything on Tor you do on other browsers; and more. Tor is how people access the so-called “dark web” and access markets like AlphaBay and DreamMarket. This may not be your goal, but the information is good to have.

Download Tor for your iPhone/iPad, Android device or any desktop/laptop computer. FreeNet, I2P, and Yandex are three of the top alternative, open-source anonymous browsers. All of them provide access to the dark web as well.

Breaking the Google Habit

The term “Google it” has become synonymous with searching the internet. Google owns a 77% world market share when it comes to web searches. This de-facto monopoly is what makes Google such a powerful company. It’s also why Google, and Facebook, are such important NSA partners. As covered before, everything you do on Google is recorded by Google when you’re logged into any of the company’s apps while searching. Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and most other browsers also keep track of every page you visit by placing tracking cookies (unique numerical identifiers) into your computer. Some websites place tracking cookies in your computer as well. You can go through the process of deleting your history every time you shut down your computer (which is not a difficult task) and also execute the aforementioned changes to your Gmail and other Google settings. But even then there is still no guarantee that Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. aren’t collecting data on you in the shadows.

RELATED: Search histories of 650,000 AOL Users accidentally released online.

Fortunately there are ways to search the web completely anonymously and get the same results you get with Google, plus everything the company censors.

Startpage by Ixquick is the best anonymous browser out there if you’re looking for results similar to Google. When you submit search terms in Startpage, the browser performs a Google search for you and returns the results. The trick is that the search originates from one of Startpage’s servers, not your computer or mobile device. There is thus no way to trace the search back to you. The search is simply clumped in with the millions of other searches that people submit through Startpage servers.

When the results are displayed, there is also an option to open the respective pages via Ixquick’s proxy. That means when you open the page, any cookies or tracking tools that the respective website uses will track the hit to where ever Ixquick’s Proxy is located. Just click the “Proxy” link in the search results to open the page this way. Startpage never stores IP addresses and keep no record of searches. This is the most anonymous way to search the web.

Duck Duck Go is also a very popular anonymous web browser. Like Startpage, it uses no tracking cookies, does not record IP addresses and does not store any search information. Ixquick, the parent company for Startpage, also has its own search engine. Its very similar to Starpage, but it pulls search results from numerous sources instead of simply replicating what comes up for the respective terms in Google. Searx is another option for anonymous browsing.

Its understandably difficult for many people to break the habit of using Google. The best recommendation is for you to save one of the aforementioned anonymous search engines to your favorites and slowly start getting into the habit of using them. This is the best alternative for those who do not wish to use one of the anonymous browser listed above.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)

Some people like to do things online that are only legal in certain states and/or countries. For instance, Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey are the only states in the U.S. with legalized online poker for real money. But to play you must be physically located in one of these states, which means your IP address must place your geolocation in said state. People in China, where the internet is highly restricted, may also want freedom to do whatever they want on the web. Enter virtual private networks (VPNs).

In short a VPN simulates a hard-wired network in one location for another location. When you access the internet from your mobile device or laptop via VPN, your IP address will appear as the city, state and/or country where the VPN is located, or where ever else they have servers. VPNs use advanced encryption as well, meaning everything you do online via VPN is safe, secure and somewhat anonymous (more on this later).

Corporations with a lot of employees who work remotely use VPNs to keep all their proprietary and confidential information secure whether the network is accessed from the employees’ home broadband connection or on public WiFi. VPNs are a necessity these days, particularly when there are so many free and/or very inexpensive options. VPNs are also essential for those who travel a lot and commonly use public, open WiFi networks at libraries, Starbucks, McDonald’s and other places. Connecting to a VPN is as simple as signing into said VPN with your user name and password.

There are free VPN services, but they are not recommended. As with anything you get what you pay for. Most free options have no encryption, use bad protocols, have a low number of servers (meaning slow connection and internet speeds), don’t support torrenting, and have no customer service. You’ll also be inundated with ads just to use the service. The good news is that the best and most affordable VPNs available come with free trials, and most cost $5 per month or less thereafter.

There are myriad choices when it comes to VPNs, so a few options that we have personally used will be covered here. The Opera browser and its built-in VPN is fine for those using Android devices. Cyberghost is a popular VPN that has a free option. But keep in mind the connection will be slow and you may not be able to access streaming content at all. The premium option is $6 per month and allows you to choose the country of your IP address geolocation.

Tunnelbear has a free option that allows 500 MB of free data every month. The paid option is under $5 per month if you commit to a year of service. Otherwise its about $10 per month with no commitment. VPN Unlimited by Keep Solid is probably the most practical option for first-timers. It comes with a 7-day trial period and after that costs only $40 per year. It also has lots of great features, but is moody when it comes to Netflix (but then again, most VPNs have issues with Netflix). Private Internet Access VPN is another $40 per year option that includes great features like ad blocking and hundreds of servers to ensure fast, smooth connections.

Bottom line with VPNs is to use the free trial first before buying. But free options are typically bad options. Test their customer service, their features, their connection speeds, etc. before committing. A VPN is absolutely necessary in the 21st century for anyone who uses public WiFi, travels a lot, or uses work internet for things they probably should not be doing.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

A vast majority of U.S. homes, upwards of 70%, get their broadband internet service from either Comcast or Charter Communications, and their subsidiaries. A similar majority is held by Verizon and AT&T when it comes to mobile broadband (4G LTE) connections. When you sign up for these services, you give the ISP your name, address, date of birth, phone number, credit card information, place of employment, and in some cases your Social Security number. Not only do ISPs have all this vital information about each of their customers, but they also have a vivid snapshot of who and what you are via your web browsing history (of course that’s before executing some of the aforementioned remedies).

Pre-paid internet and phone services are two of the best-kept secrets in the world of web access and telecommunications. ISPs and phone companies do not advertise pre-paid service because they do not want you to have it. Pre-paid phone and internet service gives you all the same benefits of signing a contract without ever disclosing your name, address, employer or any other pertinent information. Even if government or some third-party spy wanted to peek into your internet activity and location, there would be no name tied to it. Granted when you go to a Verizon, AT&T, Cricket or other store to buy your pre-paid device and service, the customer service representative will ask you for this information. Many volunteer it. But you are not entering a contract of any kind, so no information is necessary to start the service. If nothing else, simply provide a pseudonym and fake address. ALWAYS pay for these services in cash. Using a credit or debit card identifies who you are and defeats the purpose of anonymity.

The one major caveat with pre-paid service is limited data usage. But Verizon has one of the best plans out there. For $70 per month, you get unlimited talk and text, along with 10 GB of high-speed data. Once you use up all your high-speed data, a feature called “always on data” kicks in that keeps you online, but slows down speeds significantly. You can also add more high speed data when you run out at a rate of $20 for every 3 additional GB. This additional data will rollover to the next month if any remains at the time you pay your monthly bill. This plan works for most people if you do not stream a lot of video or you have access to WiFi during the day (at school, coffee shops, work, libraries, etc.) to do all your high-data usages activities. All Verizon pre-paid phones can also be toggled into mobile hot spot mode so you can use your data for your laptop as well. Its also on the Verizon network, so its lightning fast and has the largest coverage area of all wireless providers.

Cricket Wireless has a prepaid calling plan with unlimited talk, text and data. The caveat here is that there is no mobile hot spot feature with this plan. But if you solely access the internet from a mobile device, this plan is great if you live in a Cricket area. Cricket will slow your speeds down during peak hours once you hit 22 GB in a given cycle, but it goes back to high-speed during off-peak hours. This plan is $60 per month. Its best to avoid the Walmart and Target prepaid phones with names you’ve never heard of. These plans typically have slow service and no walk-in customer service.

Social Media Dilemma

If you are over 18 and have internet access in the United States, its almost guaranteed that you use social media. A Pew poll from 2016 found that a whopping 79% of U.S. Adults with internet access use Facebook. This number has been recently bolstered by retirees and others over 65 years of age. That demographic’s Facebook usage rate rose from 48% in 2015 to 62% in 2016. Instagram is the next most popular social platform, garnering 32% usage from American adults. Pinterest, LinkedIn and Twitter round out the list in that order.

There is no nice way to say this. Facebook is the data-mining arm of the NSA. Facebook makes about $4.81 per year from each of its 1.86 billion users that voluntarily give them every intimate detail about their lives to sell to the highest bidders. Despite most Facebook users knowing (or having a pretty good idea) that the company is profiting off their pain, happiness, sorrow, anger and food choices, they continue to come back.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in 2009 that people “don’t expect or want near as much privacy as they did in the past.” Zuckerberg went to say that privacy is no longer a “social norm,” before Facebook abruptly changed all users’ privacy setting to “public” without providing any notice. Since that time it has become increasingly more difficult to change your privacy settings on Facebook to something tolerable. It was learned in 2013 via Edward Snowden’s release of documents, that the NSA’s PRISM program routinely accessed Facebook and Google servers to mine user data. Documents showed that both companies cooperated with this bulk collection of data by the NSA, despite their denials. Regardless, the number of Facebook users continues to soar towards the point of market saturation.

Facebook has become a way of life for many Americans. The phenomenon is so powerful in the U.S. that doctors and scientists are now studying Facebook addiction and developing treatments for withdrawals when someone quits the platform. Zuckerberg was correct in that Facebook users, for the most part, simply do not expect privacy. They use the free social networking platform voluntarily despite knowing the company working closely with government spy agencies.

Unfortunately there is no realistic way to protect your privacy if you use Facebook regularly. The algorithms and settings are coded specifically for mining, advertising and profiling purposes. The privacy settings are useless other than for potentially preventing people you know out of your timeline and business.

The best remedy of course is to deactivate your Facebook account and never log back in again. Obviously that option is unrealistic for many people. One way to minimize your data dissemination is by posting less. You can still keep track of your friends and family by reading their posts. Another option is to never use the geolocations feature in your posts. Always log out of Facebook when you are not using it. The platform is always tracking your web habits as long as you’re logged in. Install an ad blocking app like Ad Block Plus. This will defeat the purpose of most Facebook goals. Unfortunately Facebook, like other ad-driven websites, can detect ad blockers and will potentially prevent you from using some or all of its features unless you deactivate the ad blocker.

You may have learned about the Perpetual Privacy Project from a Facebook post. That is the one thing Facebook is good for: helping organizations, educational institutions and businesses reach people. The difference is that you can create a throw-away Facebook “personal” account in order to create a business or fan page. That way you have access to view Facebook, but are only doing so to better your own life and business endeavors.

Try Twitter if you have not. The company is far more pro-liberty and pro-privacy than Facebook (but is by no means a revolutionary freedom firm). You won’t get the same jolts of dopamine as you do from the red notification alerts on Facebook; at least not immediately. The chances of your friends and family being on Twitter are also slight. But Twitter can help you wean off Facebook as an alternative social media site.

If you’re serious about privacy, Facebook cannot be a regular part of your life. Slash usage significantly if you cannot shake the habit completely and immediately. This issue MUST be addressed at some point if you value your privacy.

Conclusion

This guide is meant to give you several options to tailor your privacy to a level that fits you. Some may just want total privacy for certain online activities (i.e. covering their tracks at work); other may want to fall completely off the grid. Privacy is the foundation of both freedom and liberty, which are the foundations of our country. Do not surrender the things that make us Americans.

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