How to Avoid Being Spied On – The End-All Guide

The anonymity of the Internet is not so anonymous, and surveillance has been a topic of discussion as the Internet becomes more integrated. People have been trying to market apps and programs to keep your privacy in check, and laws have been discussed to either boost or dismantle privacy.

With that said, this article will be the ultimate guide to understanding and avoiding Internet surveillance. It will address why surveillance is a concern, who does it, and if you can avoid it entirely. We’ll even make sure to include tools to help you out.

This is one part of my Online Safety Guide - be sure to read this guide.

avoiding online surveillance

Why Should You Worry About Being Monitored

Before discussing how you can evade monitoring, we should talk about the who, what, when, where, why, and hows of Internet surveillance. We all know about the whistleblower Edward Snowden, who leaked documents that told the plans of the Nation Security Administration (NSA) and the United Kingdom’s GCHQ, or Government Communications Headquarters.

One of the biggest shockers was PRISM, an NSA program that could grab data from US service providers such as Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and the other big names.

In other words, anything you put on these servers can be snatched and looked at by the NSA. Other programs include STORMBREW and FAIRVIEW, which will gather traffic that goes through a certain router or gateway. This includes emails, videos, photos, chats, and more. Another recent program is XKEYSCORE, which will put you on a watch list if you dare to search for privacy-related subjects.

While government data collecting happens all across the globe, the US and UK are being put on the spotlight the most because we know the details. But governments aren’t the only ones monitoring you. Private companies, while they won’t snoop through your personal stuff, will track your browsing, app usage, and social networking to see how they can market to you.

However, governments can grab the private data through programs or by demanding them to hand it over. Data can also be collected and transferred by your Internet Service Providers as well.

Some people think that only criminals want privacy, and if you have nothing to hide, you should not be scared. However, there are legitimate concerns for those who are not trying to plan a heist. For instance, you may have embarrassing-but-legal browsing habits that could cause you to be harassed if they were ever leaked.

Even if you don’t, you may feel like privacy is a good thing, and that spying on everyone violates basic liberties. These are all valid reasons.

Now that you understand what the government does and how you can avoid it, we can move on to how you can avoid being spied on.

How to Hide Your Internet Browsing

As you visit sites, click on links, and search through engines, you’re creating an identity for others to see. Marketers can customize based on searches, and the government may spy on you if you’re searching for something they don’t like.

While most do not browse with ill intentions, you should conceal browsing data if you can, especially if you live in a country like Turkey, Iran, or China, which tends to censor everything.

So how can you avoid people looking at what you do?

There’s one easy way you can do that, and that’s to browse through a VPN, or virtual private network. If you don’t secure your browser, someone can see you looking at another site. However, if you use a VPN, that someone is only looking at an encrypted VPN server, and they can’t see you.

You can use VPNs for free, which are useful if you use them occasionally, such as to see videos or use services that may be region-blocked. However, if you want to use it all the time, you need to make sure that you get a quality one that allows you more speed, no ads, and more bandwidth. They’re easy to set up. All you need, for the most part, is an extension or an app. Here are a few to try out.

Tor

Tor is an excellent way for people to conceal their identity. It doesn’t use just one network, but instead will send it through a lot of other servers before it sends you to the site. This makes it hard to monitor, even though there’s a rumor that the NSA is trying their hardest to break into it.

Regardless, they haven’t yet. Therefore, you should check out the Tor browser, which comes in a bundle. When you use the browser, you will be sent through their own network. Besides the increased security, you can look at .onion sites, which only the Tor browser can see.

If you want even more protection, you can browse using a VPN and a Tor network. With a whopping four servers, no one will want to track you unless you’re the most wanted fugitive in the world.

Ad Blocking

Another way people track your browsing is through files that come from the cookies your computer uses. Trackers come from lots of different places, but the number one place is through ads, which can already be dubious to your computer.

By not having ads on your computer, they can’t place tracking, cookies, or even malware on your computer. Yes, ads will even contain malware. Before you click, you should always run a scanner on the ads to make sure they’re clean.

Despite this, there is a lot of controversy as to if you should block an ad. Ads keep most websites free, and are sources of revenue for many artists, such as YouTube stars and more. If you feel like supporting the person, you could always turn off the ad block, watch a video, and then turn it back on.

Ad blockers are easy to install as well. One of the most famous ones is AdBlock Plus, which is used as an extension with many browsers. So download it and check it out. You could also try to download extensions such as Disconnect Search and HTTPS Everywhere, which will not slow down your computer as much as Tor does.

Increasing Your Email Privacy

Browsing is one thing, but if someone spies on your email, they can damage your reputation quite badly. Emails tend to hold our most important beliefs, secrets, plans, business, and other information that is quite sensitive. Even if you don’t have something secret, your own beliefs about the government can be spied on and potentially used against you.

Even though your email is private, people can still spy, so what’s the best way to keep email secret to everyone?

You first need to realize that if you send an email using a secure network, it won’t do you any good if the recipient doesn’t have an encrypted way of storing it. You see, email can be insecure, so it shouldn’t be used if your messages are potentially life-ruining. With that said, you can be more secure in a few ways.

One way people encrypt their email is by the PGP, or Pretty Good Privacy. While it’s hard to use, you can read a few guides to brush up on it. Essentially, the PGP encrypts the message on your computer and locks it with a digital key. The recipient unlocks the message using their own secret key. PGP is uncrackable as well, so you won’t have to worry about hackers.

While PGP is popular, it needs some time and effort to set up. With that said, if you want a quicker way to send, you can use Enigmail, Vaultlet, and Hushmail to send your messages. These are all secure services that will make sure that your messages aren’t illegal.

It’s not just the government who is interested in your mail, however. Many email services use your emails to better market to you. Gmail does this a lot so it can give you better ads, in addition to monitoring for illegal activities. For instance, Gmail busted someone earlier this year for trading child porn.

So while you’re probably not a black market salesman, you should not send stuff about you that is extremely private via email. Try your hardest to avoid using mainstream services, and stick with security.

Securing your Instant Messages

Instant messaging is the new email. You can have a chat with someone, use it for business, and so much more. If you use the chat app that Google provides, you more than likely have so many IMs saved in your computer. If we looked through them, we could probably find stuff that you don’t want everyone to see. Again, maybe you’re not hiding anything illegal, but there’s some stuff in your life you wouldn’t want to show your mom.

With that said, one of the ways you can encrypt IM messaging is OTR, or Off-the-Record. This program uses deniable authentication, which will allow both parties to be able to switch off the conversation’s existence afterwards. If both users use OTR, all they need to do is leave it on for it to work. A few OTR clients include Pidgin and Adium, which will encrypt Facebook chat, Google Talk, Yahoo! Messenger, AIM, and many other popular IM tools including Skype.

There’s more than just those, however. One way is to use a web app known as Cryptocat, which creates a secure chat instantly and you can invite others via a link. After one hour of the chat being inactive, the chat is deleted. All the software is, is just a browser extension, so you can turn it on with ease.

Another alternative to use is SafeChat. SafeChat will encrypt your chats on Facebook, so if you like to use FB, it’s a good program to use. It’s a free extension for Chrome and Firefox as well as an app you can download on iOS. Another similar app is ChatSecure.

Just remember that both sides need to use encryption. If your friend isn’t using a secure app, the person could pull it from their computer.

Other Messaging Apps

There have been some problems with the amount of privacy when it comes to messaging apps. For instance, when Facebook bought WhatsApp, they used it to collect as much data as possible when you send messaging around. However, WhatsApp has been able to increase its security by quite a margin. For instance, in an Android update, it has turned on the option to encrypt messages. While it’s not available for all operating systems, it will likely be soon.

Other apps you can use include Telegram, which is beating WhatsApp in many different categories. Besides encryption for all, it includes a web client and messages that can self-destruct. It also has a cloud service that allows you to see any message from any device, no matter what. It’s encrypted, and it’s developed to be secure and fast. In addition to that, it’s free, unlike WhatsApp.

A few other secure messaging apps include Viber, Threema, Silent Text, Confide, and Wicker. However, these require both parties to use them. So if your friends to not use them, tell them to do so, and soon you can send encrypted messages for everyone.

Securing Your Smartphone from Surveillance

Some of the above information can be used on your phone, but there are issues that are exclusive only to phones. One thing includes metadata being collected. If you’re looking at the news, you should know about metadata, but you might not know what it means. Metadata is basically information about information.

Let’s give us some examples. Metadata can give you all the info about a phone conversation. What number they called, when the call took place, how long the conversation went along, even which cell towers and location that you were at. When you combine these together, someone can see a good profile as to your relationship and nature about the conversation you ad. And while the government can wiretap your phone, that probably won’t happen.

If you want to protect your metadata, you need to realize that it’s info that is stored by your phone company. However, phone companies can give up that information, and usually don’t resist when someone asks them to, especially authorities.

So what can you do to protect your precious metadata? Not a whole lot. You can get hardware such as Silent Circle and BlackPhone to help encrypt your metadata and make it harder for someone to grab.

Going back to WhatsApp, it seems off that WhatsApp offers encryption when Facebook needs the data. Why would they pay billions to purchase the app if they cannot access your data? Well, they gain their value through metadata, which can be even more valuable than regular data.

If you really want to keep your metadata out of hands you don’t want it to be touched by, you should consider joining campaigns that will protest against metadata collection, and try holding companies responsible for all the data they collected and handed over to your government. You won’t change the landscape by not making your voice heard.

You don’t just call and message when you use a phone, however. Many also use their phone as a way to browse through mobile, and this information can be tracked by people you don’t want seeing your data. Once again, you can use VPN services on your phone to make sure that your data isn’t being tracked. A few good ones include HotSpot Shield and VPN Express, both for iOS. For Android, there are quite a few that can help you out.

VPN services to allow for both mobile and desktop access, and you can sign up for them if you don’t want your privacy to be taken. For a few extra bucks a month, you can have premium packages that work hard to give you fast speed.

However, you cannot prevent your service provider from tracking your location using its internal GPS. If you don’t want people to track you, take the battery out of your phone when traveling, or just use a BlackPhone.

While you’re at it, see if you can turn off ad tracking as well. Each phone has different settings, so be sure to look into how you can switch it off.

How to Keep Your Social Network Private

By browsing securely and encrypting your messages, you can help to reduce the amount of social networking data your government sees, unless they give it up to the NSA. However, social networks of their own, especially the biggest one ever, Facebook, do a lot of spying without assistance from the government.

They’re not going to collect your data and see if you are a criminal, but they’re making money off what you do. By the way, you can sell your data and make money, but that would be counterproductive.

So how much data does Facebook grab.Quite a lot, actually. They can even create a shadow profile of people who don’t have Facebook by collecting info from other users. Sites that you ink Facebook to will send your information to their own servers, though you can use services such as Facebook Disconnect to prevent that.Companies also love to gather data from Facebook as well.

Unfortunately, even if you feel like your privacy is being violated, you can’t do much with a private company. If you read the terms of service, it tells you that you may be subjected to giving up some privacy. It kind of makes sense in a way for a site where everyone posts every single thing that they do.

What’s even stranger is that Facebook can see if its ads have impacted your purchasing decisions offline. They’re always watching, and making sure to see what you’ve been buying. Facebook isn’t the only one, it’s just the biggest fish in the ocean. Twitter does it as well, looking at some of the apps you may have downloaded on your phone.

Being a free social network,you are the product being sold. If you want to have a social network that’s not funded by ads, App.net is a good one to look at. While they do collect data, they are not going to sell them to advertisers.

If you do use Facebook, you can limit the amount of data by using the Digital Advertising Alliance, which can help you to opt our of sharing data. It’s a good idea to do this, as Facebook can go through your security settings to collect your data.

If you want to completely avoid being watched by Facebook and other social media, the best way is to not use them. However, with so many people using them, it’s almost as if you’re living off the grid.

It’s Up to You to Secure Privacy

You can’t avoid surveillance on the Internet entirely. And the ways you can reduce it can be time and money consuming. The question of if it’s worth it or not will depend on how you feel about your privacy. Even if you feel like you don’t have anything to hide, it’s still a bit messed up to know that governments, companies, and ISPs are constantly watching you with every click you do. Social networks can even watch you, even if you don’t have an account.

While this watching will not affect your lives aside from creating a filter, history has taught us that they can change that at any time. Besides that, you deserve a right to privacy, to have a life that’s private if you want it to be. People who want to use us to make money cannot understand this.

So if you are concerned about your privacy, use this guide and share it with other people. If we fight back, we can make sure that our privacy is kept, no matter what. Remember that you should not give up your rights just for convenience or security.

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