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Prying eye
How to go anonymous online

There are many reasons you might want to fly under the radar online. The big players like Google, Facebook and Apple can all track your activity and use your data for themselves, advertisers and other third parties. Governments and law enforcement also have the capacity to access your personal information during an investigation.

Being tracked online can be useful – notifying you where the Pokémon are or when your flight’s leaving – but it can also have Big Brother-style implications. Imagine a world where it’s easy to access anyone’s personal history. An employer could check your medical records for potential health problems, a new boyfriend could listen to past calls from your ex, and anyone could see your most embarrassing teenage photos.

Professor Matthew Warren, Deakin University’s Director of Research and Chair of Information Systems, explains that there’s a fine balance between the need for people to keep information private, and the need for authorities to access data. ‘People have a right to privacy to a certain extent, but governments have a duty of care to protect the population against criminals and terrorists in a physical or online context and this could impact personal privacy,’ he says.

If you decide you want to increase your privacy online, here are some ways to do it.

Browsing privately online

Each computer in a network (such as the internet) has a unique identifying number called an IP address. Just like you send mail to a home address, computers use an IP address to identify where to send data. If someone knows your IP address, they can tell your general location.

How to hide your IP address

If you’re looking for absolute anonymity while online, consider using TOR software. It hides your IP address by moving it around a number of servers, covering the data and the journey from A to B in onion-like layers and removing any trace of your activity. To use the software you’ll need to download it.

To run the TOR system, volunteers around the world act as the ‘exit node’ in each user’s session so that your real IP address is untraceable. They do this (despite opening themselves up to being accused of other people’s illegal activity) because they believe in the right to anonymity.

Alternatively, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) can be used to change your IP address and create the sense that you’re in a different location. This is helpful is you want to get around regional content restrictions to consume something that’s not accessible in your country. It’s also used by people who want to illegally download television or music without their internet service providers identifying them.

There are many VPN services available to consumers. An example is Express VPN, which has apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It has 256-bit encryption and enables people to stream movies and television with ease. It also has a customer support component to help first-timers understand the process.

Having a secret chat

You may imagine your text messages are only seen by the receiver, but there are a number of ways your private chats could suddenly become public. Check out the video to learn more.

How to send secure text messages

If you want to retain your right to privacy when messaging, try an app like Telegram, which uses end-to-end encryption tools, leaves no trace of your activity on its servers, and secures your messages from hackers. You can use it on smartphones, tablets and desktop. Messaging apps WhatsApp, Wickr and Threema also have similar security measures in place. You’ll need to download the app and invite friends first, so that both parties are chatting securely.

Going off the grid

One of the least talked about, but most common ways we leave a data trail is via our location. With a smart phone in your pocket and the location services enabled, your movements can be mapped at all times.

How to hide your location

If you have location history enabled in Google Maps, Google will log the locations that you visit when you’re out and about with your phone. According to Google, you’re the only one that can access this information, but if you want, you can disable the function so it can’t track you. To see if it’s enabled, visit your Google Maps Timeline or check the personal information and privacy section of your Google account to see if your history is switched on. Even you do disable the service, you’ll need to go into the settings and delete the history manually.

Location services on your phone can be handy for a lot of things including maps, weather and GPS-related apps. Privacy settings will vary from phone to phone, but on iPhone iOS 8 and 9 for example, you can control which apps can access your location. To do this go to Settings > Privacy. You can switch off location services for all apps, or customise which ones you’d like to maintain and when they can access your location. A small purple arrow icon will appear next to the apps that have accessed your location recently. If you allow location services, Apple will collect your data in accordance with its privacy policy. But every app has its own privacy policy and the way your data is used can vary wildly from app to app.

At Deakin you can gain a stronger understanding of imminent threats and challenges, and the concepts and practices applied in cyber security. Check out Deakin’s courses in cyber security.

 

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