It’s hard to use the Internet anymore without being watched. Tracking cookies follow your every move, so advertisers can figure out what to sell you. Social networks keep you constantly signed in, in part so they can see what other websites you visit. Phone and tablet apps may be gathering information about you, including your contacts list or your camera roll.
If you want to participate in today’s Internet, and all the apps and services that go with it, you have two choices: Accept that your information is out there and try not to worry about it, or arm yourself with some privacy protection tools. Should you choose the latter path, check out these apps and services to help you stay anonymous online and keep your information out of the wrong hands:
PrivacyScore rates websites and Facebook applications based on what they do with users’ personal data and how they track users. For instance, you can find out whether a site or app shares your data with other companies, and what happens to that data if you terminate your account. In addition to PrivacyScore’s website and Facebook app tools, the group offers a Chrome extension that displays a score for every site you visit, when possible.
Disconnect is a suite of free browser extensions that prevent third parties from following you around the web. You can download the Disconnect extension for Chrome, Firefox or Safari, or select from anti-tracking tools specifically for Facebook, Twitter or Google. Disconnect also offers an informational tool called Collusion for Chrome and Firefox, which reveals who’s tracking you online.
If you’re worried about showing up on people search websites such as Intelius and Radaris, SafeShepherd can wipe those databases clean. The free service removes records from services that don’t require a fax or snail mail request. A premium service, which performs more thorough records removal and includes a personal customer service representative, costs $14 per month.
When you want more security than your browser’s private sessions will allow, Cocoon goes even further. The Firefox browser add-on routes traffic through proxy servers, thereby protecting the user from tracking cookies, spam and viruses. Cocoon also offers a standalone iPhone and iPad browser. The free version includes advertisements, but you can make them go away for $5 per month.
HotspotShield is a virtual private network, which provides anonymous browsing, malware protection and secure connections to websites. As the name suggests, it’s ideal for connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots, especially if you need to send financial information or make an online payment. The desktop software has a free, ad-supported version, while the iOS version (Android coming soon) costs $1 per month after a 7-day trial. (Here’s a tip: If you want to completely remove HotspotShield or any VPN service from the iPhone, you must go to Settings, then General, then Profile, and remove the VPN profile listed there.)
LBE Privacy Guard
All Android apps tell you what information they intend to access before you download, but LBE Privacy Guard is helpful you overlook those details or need an easy way to keep track of them later. Within the app’s Permission Manager, you can see which other apps require access to text messages, contacts, call logs, GPS data or other information. If you have a rooted Android phone–the equivalent of jailbreaking on an iPhone–you can go even further and manage the types of data that each app can access.
More than just a product, Tor is a system for staying anonymous online. On desktops, you can use the Tor Browser Bundle, which bounces communications through network relays that make you untraceable. There’s also a Tor-capable iPhone and iPad browser called Onion Browser and an Android app called Orbot. (With Orbot, you must also download Firefox for Android and the Proxy Mobile add-on. Rooted phone users can also use Orbot to make all data transmissions anonymous, even from other apps.) The downside of Tor is that it can be slower than other services, but it’s a good self-contained way to stay completely anonymous.