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Safe Surfing

A couple years ago, I became leery of the amount of tracking Google engages in when anyone types a search term into their search engine. The last meaningful Google search I did was to find a safe alternative to Google, which has turned out to be StartPage.com. Unlike Google, which uses your IP address to track your searches as well as your movements around the web, StartPage.com does not record your IP address and does not track users of their service.

Although StartPage does return Google results, they do the search for you by proxy so that your IP address is never known to Google. They also allow you to visit a site via proxy so the site you want to visit can't track you either. Because I do a lot of Internet searches for clients, and because some of those searches take me to highly commercial destinations (of the sort that are relentless cookie monsters that seek to track you as well as sell your data to spammers) I find this feature very useful.

StartPage.com is based in the Netherlands and subject to the laws of the European Union, not those of the United States government. Their website claims that they have never given up user data to the U.S. government. There is a simple reason for this. Because they don't track you, they can't.

Apparently, StartPage.com also has plans to launch a safe email service that would protect users from the direct collection of their communications. Something to think about if in fact Google's Gmail is compromised.

Another measure Internet users can take to protect themselves from snooping is to use a safe browser. StartPage.com offers a safe browser called Ixquick, but I haven't tried it yet. Of the well-known browsers out there, the best one for privacy in my opinion is Firefox. To enable private browsing in Firefox, you'll need to change your settings to turn off tracking and turn on private browsing. You may also want to adjust your cookie settings but be aware that if you turn off all cookies, you'll probably have problems with login sites such as iBrattleboro. (I use a different browser with cookies turned on for most sites with logins.) Once you've enabled these settings, you should see a noticeable drop in the number of sites showing you ads related to your recent browsing history. You should also see a slight reduction in spam email related to your browsing habits. It's not perfect but it's better than nothing.

One of the possible benefits of the NSA revelations, regardless of whether Congress acts to protect us, is that it may provide a boost to innovation as people and corporations seek secure alternatives to the big Internet companies such as Google, Facebook, and the like. I would expect to see more services like StartPage.com, where privacy is the point, to emerge over time.


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I use it, too

I've been using StartPage for a while now, too, and have taken the same approach as Lise for browsing. A little laborious, but worth the privacy. I ask to approve each and every cookie for every site, and clean them out frequently (at least daily). I would even pay a yearly fee to use a full service email, browser, search, social networking that was truly secure and private. If even one tenth of the current facebook users (supposedly over 1 billion) switched, that would be 100 million, and if each paid $1 a month or $12 a year, it would give a company a budget of !.2 billion dollars a year to operate on. Not a bad little sum of money... There are many things I waste $12 a year on. I even pay $12 a year for a membership to an e-card site, jacquielawson.com, out of England, that is private and the cards are very nice. So why wouldn't I want to pay at least that much for my privacy on all the bigger internet things I do? Of course, there would be a record of all users of the product, but not any specific info on their use.


Don't track us

Another site is https://duckduckgo.com/
More is available at http://donttrack.us/


Somewhat different concern

I guess I have gotten too old to do anything that I think might trigger repercussions from someone spying on me. So my concern is a little different. One of the most important things I want and expect from Google is that the search does not depend upon what I would prefer. I don't know, but many have suggested that after some experience with your preferences, Google attempts to provide you with what it thinks you would like. I wish to know what everyone would like which is supplied only by an unbiased set of results. I don't expect the results to be "true" particularly but just based upon that for which most people search.


US Mail

The US Mail provides for secure communications.

It was an extremely important, defining feature of our democracy, unique in the world at the time, which enabled us to become a smart, talented nation.

Send a letter, feel safe, and support the Postal Service.


If you really want anonymity,

If you really want anonymity, you have to anonymize your actual surfing, not just the search terms that you type in. You might be able to accomplish this with TOR (The Onion Router), but on the other hand, maybe the NSA is watching TOR users more carefully than regular folks, and maybe the TOR you choose will be one of their honeypots.

Avoiding being tracked is verging on impossible. If the NSA doesn't get you, the ad industry will. And if the political climate changes in the direction of even more authoritarianism, the mere fact that you are using a search anonymizer could be construed as suspicious behavior.

So if we really care about this stuff, the right thing to do is to engage in democracy and stop the move toward authoritarianism. Nothing else will really address this problem.


Sadly true

After looking over how the tracking is done, there is also the upstream data sweeps that we've been hearing about in which case it doesn't matter what you do, they'll get your data. So I guess the only answer is not to use the Internet, or banks, or medical services, or go to school, or get a job, or, or, or......

LOL. We are what you might call yea verily you know what!



I've rethought my comment above and decided that even if the gov't is sweeping up all our data by indirect means, it's still better to use StartPage who promise right out of the box not to give it up secretly on purpose and also to send a message to any companies that are collaborating that there might be consequences in terms of user share and whatnot. Also, I don't understand the motto " do no evil" -- is Google saying that the default option for tech companies is to "do evil"?


Facebook privacy survey

Interestingly, I just received a survey from Facebook on privacy and my satisfaction with Facebook's privacy. I probably will be hounded for the rest of my life by them for what I wrote in the comments section, but I let them have it. If we all communicated a clear, consistent message any time we have the opportunity, perhaps someday we would get some changes. Here's what I wrote (sorry it is long, and some a of repeat of what I already wrote above).

The only reason I use facebook is to keep up with some friends who use facebook almost exclusively to communicate. I absolutely do not like the lack of privacy. I would gladly pay a modest yearly fee (a dollar a month) to have a totally easily controlled, totally private, anonymous to facebook and not at all available to any advertisers, no information collected by facebook for statistics of any kind, and NO COOKIES (and/or no consequences if one employs cookie denials) or access to my computer, email addresses to get friend suggestions, etc., system. Any cookies that you do request to place on computers must be clear and in plain English, described on each request. No codes. If I have left out any situations that relate to privacy, it is because I am not aware of them, not because I mean to exclude it/them. A complete email/search/social network/browser service that meets these requirements would be my preference. I do realize you are not primarily a social network site, but rather a marketing site for companies that is disguised as a social network service, but I do think there is a place for a true, service to the subscriber system that allows people to choose to give up certain privacy, and for those who want to give it all up, fine. But those of us who don't please make that option available. And be totally, truly, here to serve the people using the system, not the advertisers. If you really do have 1 billion plus users, and you charged $12 a year, you would make a gross income of $12,000,000,000.00 a year, which is not chump change.


iBrattleboro Poll

The amount of confidence I have in local (not national, not state) media to get the facts right...