6 tips for protecting your personal information on the Web

Should we really be worried about everything that the Web may know about us? That depends. While participating in the large collaborative webdocumentary series Do Not Track, I developed, as did several of my colleagues, a paradoxical reaction – somewhere between curiosity to discover amazing new technologies and the paranoid desire to wrap my cell phone in tinfoil.

Discovering everything that the new Web economy knows about is disturbing. Did you know that many mobile apps access your GPS, your contacts or your calendar, even though it isn’t necessary in order for them work? (see episode 04)?

How to protect your smartphone

I won’t lie to you: it’s difficult to protect your smartphones. But after a few weeks of following trackers, I have learned a few things.

Check your smartphone

1 – Some of your apps need your personal data to function. Others don’t. To sort through them, I installed Clueful by Bitdefender. It’s an app that tells you what information is used by each of your apps. It warns you if some apps use your information without your knowledge. You are being tracked but at least you know it.

2 – Before downloading anything, make sure you actually need it. Get rid of the apps that you no longer use. Close apps running in the background. In iOS, just double-click the Home button at the bottom of the screen. In Android, you can do it by opening “Applications” under “Settings”.

3 – If you like, you can also disable geolocation services. In Android, just go to “Settings”, then “Geolocation” and disable. At the bottom of the same page, you can click on “Google Location History” to disable this function. On the iPhone, go to “Settings” then “Privacy” then “Location Services”.

4 – Ad tracking can be limited. If you use Android, you will find “Ads” under “Google Settings”. You can disable “Interest-based advertising” and re-initialise “Advertising ID”, the equivalent of a computer cookie. This method is not fool-proof, since an application that had access to your UDID will recognise your phone, but not all apps do it. The process is the same for the iPhone. You will find “Ads” in “Settings” under “Advertising”.

Be anonymous

5 – To navigate completely anonymously, you can download Tor or Orbot, developed by the Guardian Project. These services are effective but require patience, as uploading pages is slow. The search engine promises “not to spy on you” and does not store user’s personal data.

6 – Use “Off The Record (OTR)” messaging apps. These apps don’t store any messages on any servers, so there’s nothing to snoop on. ChatSecure is a popular option.

7 – Do not connect to free Wi-Fi. If you really must use free Wi-Fi, do not access your personal accounts (email, bank account, social networks, etc.) Otherwise, install a VPN (Virtual Private Network) app which enables you to connect to the Internet securely.

8 – If you want to take it further, do not hesitate to stay informed on the Guardian Project website, which has developed tools that make it possible to make images anonymous, encrypt communications, etc. The new Courier tool makes it possible to access an uncensored Internet. With the “PANIC” button, you can uninstall it quickly.  It is available in several languages, including English, Chinese, Tibetan, Ukrainian and Russian.

Zineb Dryef

Do you have something to hide?

Do you know that you are being watched?
You wouldn’t let that happen in real world
Would you allow a stranger to enter your home, and look around?
When you send an email, it’s like a postcard, several agents (digital and human) copy and read it on the way. Would you accept it in real life?
Why accepting this in your digital life?

Can you avoid being tracked?

It’s difficult. But you can find more and more tools that help you know who is tracking you. We suggest you embrace a new “online hygiene” and follow our simple steps. So below a few rules, softwares and websites that will help you track the trackers:

  • Lightbeam  is a plug-in for Firefox developped by Mozilla. It allows you to see who is tracking you across the sites you browse. Cookies, third parties, links between trackers, Lightbeam gives you an overview… if you surf with Firefox.
  • Ghostery is an american company that allows you to blog web snitches. Available for all browsers, ghostery keeps a very large database of trackers and allows you to select those you wish to block. They also consult for companies who wish to improve their marketing practices. Click here to download the extension.
  • In France, the Commission Nationale Informatique et Liberté (CNIL, National Commission on Informatics and Liberty) developped Cookieviz, that identifies in real time cookies who send information to other sites. Alongside l’Expérience, this is a part of their actions to increase user awareness about cookies and privacy.
  • was founded by former Google employees and lawyers. It allows, among other, to block trackers and improve your navigation on the web. Available in English, this plug-in categorizes trackers (advertising, site use,…). This is the software that is used in real time in some of the episodes of Do Not Track.

Tactical Technology Collective is an organization that works on the use of information et offers a wide array of websites to analyze and reduce the tracks we leave behind while surfing. Their toolbox is pretty extensive – we particularly emphasize My Shadow (available in several languages) that allows you to find the tracks you leave on the Internet with your devices. From the same company, Trackography is a website that allows you to know which trackers are used by the media sites you visit, depending on your country. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feature every site. Check out other articles about tools on our blog.

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