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Private History

Posted By On March 16, 2007 @ 2:52 PM In Using The Internet | No Comments

Q:
I get a little nervous sometimes about how the search engines I use can track a lot of what I do when I’m on my computer. Is there any way I can keep this information private? I’m not saying that I search for anything out of the ordinary, but it’s nice to know I can have a little privacy when I want it.

A:
I agree with you on this one. I don’t think we realize how much a search engine can pick up just from us using them. As a matter of fact, I’m really glad you asked this question. I’ve been trying to think of a way to fit this topic into the newsletter for awhile and now, I have the perfect opportunity. Plus, I’m sure the person who asked this question isn’t the only one who has been wondering about it. So, let’s clear some things up, shall we?!

First of all, let’s go over a little background. Every time you use a search engine (Google, Yahoo!, etc.), that site is then able to collect and store the records of all your searches. They can track the terms you search for, the Web sites you visit after you find what you’re looking for, the times at which you search and they can even pick up your IP address. From all of that, the search engine site is then able to figure out who you are, what you do while you’re online and even what some of your likes and dislikes are. That’s pretty crazy (and a little scary), isn’t it?

So, since I care about all of you so much, I’m going to fill you in on a couple secrets as to how you can keep some of this information private from those nosy search engines. I have six tips for you today and if you follow them all, you’ll be way ahead in keeping your search history private from any intruders, etc. Okay, here we go!

1.) Do not log into the search engine or any of their extra tools. If you go to your favorite search engine and log in right away, it makes it very easy for it to create a profile about you. Once you log in, they know your identity right away and after that, there’s no turning back in what they can figure out next.

Now, you may think that you don’t log into your search engine, but you actually may without even knowing it. For example, if you use Google as your main search engine (which a lot of us do), you are probably signed up for some of Google’s other tools, such as Gmail, Google Talk, Google Groups, etc. If you’re logged into any of those extra programs while you’re performing a search, Google will be able to track down all of your information. So, just be sure that you log out of any other programs before you start searching. It may be hard to remember at first, but for your own safety, make sure you do it. Write yourself a note if you need to, because it’s really easy to forget to log out of some of the programs you probably use on a very regular basis. You’ll get the hang of it though! Again, make sure you do this for any search engine that you use that may have extra programs included.

2.) This next one has to do completely with keeping yourself safe from Google. As I said above, many of us use Google as our primary search engine, but in all actuality, Google can be one of the most risky to deal with. Google does things a little differently. It uses cookies to track your history from your search sessions. You may think that if you just delete your cookies, you’ll be all set, but that’s not really the best way to handle it. Cookies can be very helpful sometimes and if you deleted them, your Web surfing experience wouldn’t always be as easy. So, the best thing to do is block only Google’s cookies. Here’s how.

In Internet Explorer, go to Tools, Internet Options and click on the Privacy tab. Next, click on the Sites button and in the “Address of Web site” box, type in Google’s address (www.google.com). When you’re finished, click on the Block button. In Firefox, go to Tools, Options and click on the Privacy tab as well. Choose Exceptions and type in Google’s Web address. Click Block when you’re done. If you do this, Google will no longer be able to place cookies on your hard disk, which will keep them from gathering up all of your information.

3.) Change your IP address on a regular basis. Search engines actually get the most information about you from your IP address, so it’s best to change it every once in awhile. This will keep the search engines from learning so much about you so easily. If you use a cable or DSL modem, the easiest way to get a new IP address is to turn your modem off and leave it off for a few minutes. Then, turn it back on. This method will clear out your old IP address and you’ll automatically be assigned a new one. If you use another type of Internet connection (dial-up, etc.), you may want to contact your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and ask them about getting a new address. Either way, it’s an easy way to keep your information safe.

4.) Don’t ever include any personal information in your searches. You may have searched for your own name before, which can be kind of fun, but it’s really not all that safe. Every time you put any of your personal data into the search (your name, address, social security number, etc.), you’re putting yourself in danger. Doing that makes it very easy for search engines to collect your information and then keep it forever. It could also sometimes lead to identity theft, depending on what you search for. Your information could land in the wrong hands and it could be very bad news.

5.) Always try to perform extra sensitive searches on a public computer. If you ever absolutely need to search for your personal information or any other extremely private data, don’t do it on your home or office computer. That may not make much sense, but if you use your personal computer, it’s more likely that you’ll be logged into another program that could compromise your information. If you go to a computer that you’ve never used before, you won’t have the tendency to log in and your information will be safer. Also, when you do this, make sure you don’t log in on the computer you’re using. If you accidentally do that, your information will be at risk all over again.

6.) The last one for today is to try and avoid using the search engine that your ISP provides. Your ISP already knows your IP address (and they’ll know any new one that you get), so that means they can obtain your information even easier. Then, once you use their search engine, they will be able to collect even more information about you and it will just be bad. Most ISPs do have their own search engine (for example, search.comcast.net), so just steer clear of those. It’s nice to think that we can trust our ISPs (and I mean, most the time, we can), but you really have to worry about protecting yourself first.

There you have it. Six tips you can follow to keep all of your search information as private as possible. Now, I know that some of you may not think it’s necessary to do all this, but I wanted to give you options just in case you thought it was worth while. It doesn’t hurt to try, right?!

~ Erin


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