Turn on, tune in, opt out.
It may become the battle cry of a new generation, a slogan that epitomizes the digital revolution that is happening among more and more people who have woken up to the fact that much of their online browsing habits can and will be used against them.
People are starting to push back, starting to question the safety of surfing in free public wifi hotspots. They are questioning advertisers that closely monitor their browsing habits. They are wondering what they can do for better privacy protection to prevent online identity theft and credit fraud.
Put simply, more and more people are looking for easy steps to take to shield their online browsing habits. After all, the more anonymous web surfing you can do, the better.
Far from being an exhaustive list — after all, new tips and tactics are coming out every day — the following are some ways to help you avoid tracking from cybercriminals, intrusive advertisers, and others who are trying to pry into your data:
Hide your data. Network encryption is out of your control when you use public wifi, so check the privacy statement to learn about the type of encryption in use. For example, if you do not want to be seen by other users on the network, check whether the network uses encryption in order to hide such information. (If it doesn’t have a privacy statement, opt out of using that free network!)
Turn off your wireless network when not in use. If you are in a public wifi hotspot but not using your computer to send email or do any online browsing, disable your wireless connection. You will still be able to work on files and use your computer. Either remove the external wifi card, or right-click the connection and click “disable” if you are using an internal wifi card.
Go undercover. Consider using a secure, personal Virtual Private Network (VPN) like PRIVATE WiFi™, which both creates a secure tunnel to encrypt and protect your personal browsing information, and allows you to surf anonymously, making you invisible to hackers on any public network. Yet another example is Google Chrome’s Incognito Window. This option allows users to open a new page and browse anonymously, without being tracked. Websites that you open and files you download while in this “stealth” mode are not recorded in browsing and download histories. In addition, all new cookies are deleted after closing an incognito window.
Opt out of ad networks. For better security management, consider using a service like those developed by the Network Advertising Initiative and Privacy Choice. Both allow users to opt out — either selectively or completely — of custom online ads from more than 100 networks that may not be able to guarantee anonymity. In addition, some of the featured companies also link to their privacy policies and the types of information they collect.
Learn the lingo. Maintaining a higher level of awareness about technology is key to stopping hackers in their tracks. The Federal Trade Commission has put together a list that defines the various acronyms and buzzwords and has also created consumer awareness videos and games. Likewise, the Federal Communications Commission has created an informational video and related website to teach consumers ways to protect their information.