Sharing information online always comes with a risk. There were 3.2 million reported cases of fraud and identity theft in 2019 alone, with billions of dollars in damage. Since then, with the professional world shifting to online services, the importance of keeping our information private has only grown.
There’s so much to know about protecting your information online, but it can get confusing. From phones to smart TVs, laptops, and tablets, it can be hard to track everything between multiple devices. What’s the best search engine for privacy, and how do you set up your iPhone for maximum security?
We wanted to give you the ultimate privacy guide with all the information you need to keep your important data to yourself. From browsers to VPNs and identity theft protection to ad blockers, here’s the full guide to staying safe online.
These are some of the things we’ll be going through in our ultimate privacy guide:
- Security settings on your smartphone and laptop.
- VPNs, antiviruses and firewalls.
- Ad blockers.
- Identity protection services.
- Social media settings for privacy.
- Search engines and browsers.
- The safest messenger services.
Recommended Privacy Kit
Here’s our ultimate privacy guide list on recommendations for maximum security.
- Smartphone: Purism Librem 5.
- Laptop: Apple MacBook Pro.
- Password Manager: 1Password.
- VPN: NordVPN.
- Email service: ProtonMail.
- Antivirus: Bitdefender.
- Messenger: Signal.
- Cloud storage: Sync.com.
To start with our ultimate privacy guide, let’s first go through why it’s so important to keep your data safe.
Privacy means the ability to control what information you want to share about yourself with your devices, networks and third parties.
The business model of tech companies like Google and Facebook is based on us not having privacy by default. These organizations collect as much information as possible to sell advertising to their customers, private companies.
This means you’re their product, and you need an ultimate privacy guide like this one to protect yourself and keep as much data as possible to yourself.
Data security is about protecting the data you have decided to share, whether through an online banking app or by email. If you haven’t kept your privacy settings high enough on your devices, a security breach can expose all your personal information.
You may think you’ve got nothing to hide, but we’ve all got information to protect. Your entire life is on the internet now, from your bank accounts and credit cards to private messages. Something as simple as your social security number or email getting exposed can bring you life-long legal and financial problems.
There are ways to keep your information private, though you do have to learn some tricks. The best thing you can do to stay safe in the long run is by paying attention both to the privacy of your connections and the security of your devices and accounts. Let’s get to our ultimate privacy guide.
The first thing we’ll look at is the common devices you use on a daily basis and how to protect your data when using them.
Remember that your internet or cell phone provider will still collect some of your data, so you’re never 100% protected. However, these basic tips will block some of the tracking and possible privacy issues, and keep you safer in case you lose your phone or computer.
Since Android is a Google product, it’s not the ideal operating system to have for privacy. It’ll track a lot of your actions for advertising and system improvement purposes, but it does have some very smart security features.
We’ve collected some of them below, as well as general recommendations for keeping your phone secure. Note that different manufacturers may move or remove some of the features in your Settings menu, so some things can be located in a different spot on your phone.
Third-Party App Permissions
If you have a security issue on your Android phone, it’s much more likely because of a third-party app than your operating system. People tend to not read the fine print very closely, and this can lead to a situation where obscure apps have too much access to your data.
Go through your app permissions in your settings and revoke the ones that don’t seem necessary. For example, you can disable apps from seeing your location unless you’re actively using it.
You should find this in Settings by going to Privacy and clicking on Permissions Manager. If that’s not your case, go to Apps to review permissions one by one. It takes a little bit of work to go through them all, especially if you tend to download lots of apps, but it’s worth it.
The only working security system is one you’re going to use. If you don’t love having your phone locked, the Smart Lock feature on Android is an excellent option.
You can set it to keep your phone unlocked when it’s on you, or when you’re at home. It’ll still be safely locked whenever you’re outside, but you’ll be less annoyed by your security measures.
You’ll find the Smart Lock feature in Settings under Privacy.
Lock Screen Options
The apps and widgets you have access to on your lock screen can be a security risk if you ever end up losing your phone. Someone might see parts of messages, important emails or calendar notifications, or be able to reply without logging in with your passcode.
Your lock screen settings are under Privacy in Notifications on Lock Screen. There, you can approve seeing sensitive content only when the phone is unlocked, or not showing notifications at all.
A really smart feature on Android’s lock screen is the possibility to add emergency information if anyone should find your phone. This option should be in your Settings menu under About Phone and Emergency Information.
In Display, you can also leave a message to be shown on the lock screen, with the phone number of an emergency contact.
Google Play Protect
Google Play Protect is a smart new feature on Android phones that protects you from sneaky apps trying to get your information. It should be on by default, checking your phone to see if anything strange is happening.
You can check if it’s working properly in the Privacy section of your Settings and going to Google Play Protect.
Newer Android phones now also come with a handy lockdown mode option for those moments when you need a bit of extra security. This mode will hide your notifications and all sensitive information from your lock screen.
It also disables fingerprint or facial recognition and Smart Lock, so nobody can unlock your phone unless you put in your passcode.
You can activate the lockdown mode option in Settings. The exact location of this setting depends on the brand and model of your phone, so if you can’t find it, put “lockdown” in the search field.
When you’ve activated lockdown mode, it’s easy to find fast when you feel your information may become compromised. Just press the power button on your phone, and you should see this option. You may need to hold the button, depending on your phone.
Guest Mode and Screen Pinning
Have you ever handed your phone to someone else for a minute, but wondered if they’re really trustworthy? With Android’s guest mode, you can do this without a problem, and know they won’t have access to your personal information.
It’s also good if you need to give your phone to your child and don’t want them to mess up your settings.
Just go to your Settings and find Multiple Users to activate the possibility of a guest user. Then, whenever you’re using your phone, swipe down to open Quick Settings and select the tiny person icon on the bottom right.
There, it will give you the option to add a guest, opening the system with only the basic factory settings. You can erase the user later to keep their browsing private if needed.
Screen pinning is an even more limited version of your phone. It allows you to pin one app or screen, and won’t open the rest of your phone unless you insert the passcode.
Depending on the brand and model of your phone, you should be able to enable screen pinning in either Security or Advanced Settings. Also, activate Ask for Unlock Pattern Before Unpinning.
Once it’s activated, you can find the option to pin any screen in the Overview window you get by swiping from the top down. There, just tap on the app icon to open app information, and then on the pin icon.
Newer Android devices, from version 7.0 onwards, come with file-based encryption. It may even already be enabled on your phone, but you’ll have to finish the process to make your phone’s data inaccessible to others.
It should take about an hour, and you’ll need to have your phone plugged in the whole time.
There are a couple of things to note before you encrypt your phone:
- Your device may be slower when encrypted.
- You won’t be able to go back to not having your information encrypted without resetting the phone. This means going back to factory settings and losing all your data.
- Encrypting the data on your phone will not do it for your communications. Consider getting an email encryption service to keep your correspondence private once it leaves your phone as well.
- You’ll need to have an unlock code, a PIN, a password or a pattern. You’ll find this option in Security.
If you’re sure you want to encrypt your files, go ahead and select Encrypt Phone.
Apple is somewhat better than Android as far as privacy goes, given that all the information on your iPhone is encrypted by default. Apple doesn’t have access to your account, so even law enforcement can’t get access to your data without your approval.
Still, there are some measures you can take to make your phone more secure and private. It’s always a good idea to check out these security settings after an update on iOS since there often are new settings that allow you to control your privacy better.
Apple’s FaceID and TouchID may be easy to use, but they can be used to unlock your phone against your will. Both law enforcement officers and criminals can unlock your phone without your consent to reach your personal data, for example, if you’re unconscious.
To be safe, disable FaceID and TouchID and opt for a passcode instead, to effectively block your phone from others. If you still want to use FaceID, you can go to Settings and FaceID to pick the Require Attention for FaceID setting. This will require your eyes to be open to unlock your phone.
Avoid picking a passcode that will be easy to figure out, such as your birthday or 112233.
If your locked phone has access to widgets, Siri or answering messages, it’s also a threat to the privacy of your information. You can find and disable these options in the Touch ID and Passcode menu of your Settings.
Some app notifications, such as emails or messages, may also reveal information to people you might not be willing to give. You can either turn off notifications for each app that has personal information or disable them completely in Settings and selecting Notifications.
Apple collects information from your browsing and searches to offer targeted ads inside the company’s apps. You can turn off the tracking from the Privacy menu by choosing the Apple Advertising option.
Also in the Privacy menu, go to Tracking and disable the “Allow apps to request to track” option to prevent other apps from tracking your browsing.
In Settings, you can control all your apps and the information you want them to have. Go through all the apps and think about whether you want them to have access to your microphone, photos or location.
In many cases, apps use your data to improve user experience, so you’ll have to define which functions you prefer to have and which you can go without.
Find My iPhone
Enabling Find My iPhone is an important security feature. If you suspect your phone has been stolen, you can find and lock it, or erase the information on it so nobody else can gain access to your data.
You can find this in Settings and tap on your name. From there, go to Find My and pick the right device to enable tracking.
Siri isn’t just a voice-controlled search assistant but a personalization tool that makes your iPhone usage more customized. The problem is that it pulls data from your apps to do so.
Siri also tracks your app usage and shows suggestions on the home and lock screens. For example, if you track your workouts in a fitness app every day at the same time, Siri will start reminding you to get your workout done.
You can disable Siri’s suggestions in Settings, picking Siri and Search, and disabling the suggestions you don’t want to get.
iPhones use end-to-end AES encryption, but if you have automatic iCloud backups enabled, this information is also on your iCloud account. Your information is encrypted end-to-end, but Apple may share the information from iCloud with law enforcement if needed.
Also, remember that your iCloud account is only safe if your password is safe. You can enable two-factor authentication to make sure no one can access your account without your permission. To do this, go to Settings and click on your name. Then, select Password and Security and turn on Two-Factor Authentication.
If you use other apps, such as Gmail, remember that you’ll need some extra measures to keep your correspondence safe. Consider an encrypted email service to make sure everything stays private from end to end.
Privacy options are relatively different across different Windows versions, but we’ll focus here on Windows 10.
You’ll find your settings in the Start menu in the bottom left corner of your screen. There, you’ll see the small gear icon that takes you to Settings.
In Privacy and under General settings, you should find the option to turn off your advertising ID.
This ID collects information from you when you’re using your computer and browsing online. It creates an advertising profile for you and shares it with advertisers. As you can probably imagine, this undermines your privacy quite a bit.
You can prevent apps from finding out your location if you don’t want everybody to know where you are all the time. It’s possible to do this for just a couple of apps, or Windows in general.
You’ll find this option under App Permissions and Location. Keep in mind that it can also be useful for your computer to get access to your location, for example, to see the local weather.
Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana is a new feature on some computers. It collects information about your browsing habits across Windows and other apps, like Edge, to give you suggestions and alerts.
This data collection may be harmless, but you may still not want to share everything with Windows. To disable Cortana, go to Settings and Cortana and toggle off the selection Cortana can give you suggestions, ideas, reminders, alerts and more. Below, you can manage the data Cortana has already collected from your activity.
Even without Cortana, your Windows computer collects and stores your activity information and shares it with Microsoft. It not only keeps your browsing history but also your location data and all the information Cortana collects from you.
If you don’t want to share this information with Microsoft, you can disable it in Privacy by going to Activity History.
You probably already know that public Wi-Fi is bad news for privacy. To prevent security issues, make sure your Wi-Fi doesn’t automatically connect to public hotspots. Go to Settings, Network and Internet, and pick Wi-Fi. Under Wi-Fi Sense, turn off the option Connect to suggested open hotspots.
On that same menu, pick the option Use random hardware addresses to make tracking your location harder on Wi-Fi.
If you want to view and manage the information Windows has collected from you, you can go to https://account.microsoft.com/account/privacy.
In this URL, you can view all the collected data, from search history to Cortana voice information and location, and delete what you don’t want to keep. You can also manage ad targeting here.
You can protect files on your computer with Windows’s built-in encryption, and it’s easy to do. Not all computers support this, but you can see if yours does by going to the Settings main menu and typing “encryption” in the search field.
If you do have an encryption option, you should find it in Settings by going to Update and Security. From there, go to Device Encryption and toggle on the encryption switch.
The macOS can be very safe, but it always depends on you. Make sure to enable the useful features we’ve listed ahead in our ultimate privacy guide. Also, go through your security settings regularly after major system updates to see if anything has changed.
Passcode and Users
Having a passcode is key to keeping your information secure if it should ever get into the wrong hands. You can set one up or change it in System Preferences by going to Users and Groups and selecting Change Password.
If your computer is used by others, you might also benefit from creating different users for each person. You can keep yourself as the administrator.
Go to Users and Groups and click on Add to create a new account.
Find My Mac
A key security feature many people forget to enable is Find My Mac. It lets you locate your lost or stolen computer, wipe it clean if you suspect your information is compromised, and lock it. Someone may still be able to use it in the future, but they won’t reach your data.
In the Security and Privacy menu in System Preferences, go to Location Services. Pick the option Enable Location Services and pick Find my Mac from the list. You’ll need to click on the lock icon to prevent anyone else from changing this option.
Apple collects information from you for advertising purposes, but it’s easy to opt out and stop sharing this information.
You can easily opt out of Apple’s ad tracking by going to System Preferences, Security and Privacy, and clicking on Advertising.
Location services can be useful not only for services such as weather and restaurant suggestions nearby. It’s also key to share your location in case you ever lose your Mac and want to recover it through Find My Mac.
You may not want to share your location with every app on your computer, which is why it’s useful to review them. Go to Location Services in your Security and Privacy menu and deselect all the services you don’t want your Mac to use your location with.
Siri can be useful, but this wouldn’t be an honest ultimate privacy guide if we didn’t remind you of the negative side. Like all virtual assistants, Siri also collects tons of data you probably wouldn’t want to share with Apple.
The safest option for your privacy is to disable Siri altogether, but you can only use some of its features. To view Siri’s permissions, go to System Preferences and click on Siri. You’ll see the Enable Ask Siri button, which you’ll have to deselect.
Your Mac is equipped to encrypt your information, but you do have to activate this option.
Go to System Preferences from the Apple menu icon, pick Security and Privacy and go to FileVault to activate encryption on your Mac. Click on the padlock icon and put in your password to start encryption.
After encryption, note that you’ll always have to put in your passcode when restarting the computer to access the files.
Software and Services
So you’ve got your basic settings out of the way, but we’ve still got plenty to cover in our ultimate privacy guide. Even if you’ve gone through your device settings, there are many ways to improve through free or paid services that protect you and your information.
Here are some software options and services that will help you keep your data secure when browsing.
The best passwords make it much harder to hack your information. You should use different passwords for all your online accounts and make them harder to figure out. And yes, that means you shouldn’t use “password1234” as your password.
Always use upper and lowercase letters and numbers, and use random letters instead of meaningful words to make it harder to figure them out.
But it’s not easy to remember tons of passwords with random letters and numbers, and this is where a password manager comes in handy. It generates strong passwords, encrypts and stores them and other sensitive information in one place, and automatically fills them in when needed.
You’ll only have to remember one strong password for your password manager account. The most important thing is to remember that password, or otherwise, you may lock yourself out of all your accounts.
Password managers are also useful for combating phishing attacks. You won’t insert your login on a fake site by accident, because the password manager reads the website URL and notices it’s not the correct one.
Among some of the best password managers are 1Password and LastPass. Many are available in free and subscription versions. The basic difference is that paid services usually allow you to use them on multiple devices, while free versions are more limited.
A key feature in your privacy options is a Virtual Private Network or VPN, a software that creates a secure and encrypted connection to the internet. This protects your information, including your IP address, so that you’re not visible to others online when using your computer or phone.
A VPN is a must for those working from home and needing to keep their information private, but it also keeps you secure when you’re using a shared internet. You can connect to public Wi-Fi without risk, and even use torrenting services without exposing your IP address.
Another bonus of a VPN is that it can trick your device into thinking you’re somewhere else in the world. This will allow you to stream content that may otherwise be restricted to another country or region.
What To Look for When Picking a VPN
One important thing to pay attention to when picking a VPN is speed. These kinds of services tend to be a little slower than connecting to the internet without one because your connection runs through another server. A quality VPN will likely have more servers and give you a faster browsing experience.
Privacy is also a key concern. Many VPNs have a no-logging policy, meaning they don’t store your information on their servers. The best and most trustworthy ones have independent auditors make sure this policy is followed.
You’ll also have to consider whether you want a free or a paid VPN. Free VPNs usually track some of your data for advertising purposes, so they’re not as private as you might want. They usually also have low data limits, so you won’t be able to use them for streaming.
For paid VPNs, you can usually get a free or reduced-price trial period to test out if the service is right for you before you commit to a plan.
The Best VPNs
These are some of the best VPNs we have collected for our ultimate privacy guide. Many antivirus companies offer VPN services, as well, and you may get a good deal when you pay just one provider for a complete package.
NordVPN’s 5,100 servers in 60 countries give you the fastest browsing on the market, but it’s also among the most private services you can find. This VPN gives you the option to encrypt your information twice. You can always rest assured that your data is private, even when you’re using public Wi-Fi.
This VPN is not the most user-friendly or intuitive, but when you figure it out, the speed it offers is surprising. It’s a great value for your investment, and you have a 30-day money-back guarantee in case you don’t love it.
ExpressVPN is a user favorite among paid VPNs, thanks to its speed. With more than 3,000 servers in 94 countries, you’re likely to get a fast, reliable connection. It’s also very intuitive and easy to use, even if you’re new to VPNs.
ExpressVPN uses government-level AES-256 encryption and doesn’t track your information, so everything remains private.
Overall, ExpressVPN is a top choice for those looking for a reliable, easy and fast connection with guaranteed privacy.
Hotspot Shield is among the best-known free VPNs around. A free account gives you many of the paid version’s features, but you’ll have to settle for fewer servers and limited data.
In the free version, you only have one server location in the United States, which may be a little limited to some users. It’s also much slower than a paid VPN and has a daily data limit of 500MB, which can be too little for torrenting and streaming. If you’re using your VPN just for banking or other limited purposes, it may be enough.
ProtonVPN’s free version gives you what most other free VPNs don’t, unlimited data. You are limited to only one location and one device, and the speed isn’t great compared to the paid subscription.
This VPN does keep your information strictly private and doesn’t store it, and you’ll only need an email address to use it. Another thing to note is that it doesn’t have any ads, which makes using ProtonVPN much more pleasant.
Identity protection services claim to protect you from getting your identity stolen online, but the truth is more complex. In reality, no company can fully guarantee you won’t have to suffer identity theft, especially if you’ve been a victim of a data breach.
What they can do is monitor your data for signs that you might have suffered a security breach, and help you recover your data faster. They constantly monitor credit bureaus and the web for signs of your social security number being used for dark purposes.
Some services even go through the dark web, social media and all types of public records. These services alert you of any address changes or if your information comes up in court records or is linked to crimes.
They also reimburse funds in cases of identity theft. However, the terms are not always clear with these services, so read the fine print with attention.
Identity protection services aren’t cheap, and they don’t work alone. You should still strive to keep your information secure with safe browsing habits. Still, if you happen to be unlucky enough to get your identity stolen, this type of insurance will seem like a cheap insurance policy.
The Best Identity Protection Services
Overall, identity protection services can be a good investment for anybody. It’s especially smart to pay for these services if you were the victim of a major data breach.
We have compiled the best identity protection services for our ultimate privacy guide.
LifeLock is part of the same company as Norton Antivirus and one of the best identity protection services you can find. It monitors threats and immediately alerts you to them, and reimburses you for the funds lost due to an attack.
This service has four different plans available. The higher-priced plans include VPNs and antivirus for multiple devices and a wider range of monitoring. The maximum reimbursement of funds also goes up as the price gets higher.
IdentityForce is another identity protection service that’s among the top-recommended alternatives. It continually keeps track of your credit records as well as public records, social media and the dark web. If anything strange comes up, they will notify you directly by email or message.
As far as the insurance policy for the loss of your identity, IdentityForce offers reimbursement for up to a million dollars, depending on your plan.
Ads and pop-ups are how many websites make their money these days, but they can get annoying. And ads don’t only make it slower to load a website; they also collect information and target you, making it harder to keep your information private.
Downloading an ad blocker can help you avoid getting targeted, and it also prevents companies from collecting your data. Some banners and pop-ups may also contain spyware or malware that gets into your computer when you click on the ad.
The Best Ad Blockers
These are the ultimate privacy guide picks for the best ad blockers to protect your privacy and keep those annoying pop-ups at bay.
AdBlock effectively prevents banners, videos and pop-ups from bothering you, and it does so by default without needing to meddle with the settings. Non-intrusive ads aren’t automatically blocked, but you can block them in the settings if needed.
This ad blocker is free of charge and available to download and customize on all major browsers. You can also sync your customization choices between different browsers so they’ll automatically follow you.
With a NordVPN subscription, you’ll get the Cybersec ad blocker included in the package. It’s one of the most effective services you can find and a continuous user favorite. You do have to pay for a VPN subscription, but NordVPN is one of the best services in its category.
The ad blocker hides auto-play videos as well as static ads and pop-ups, making it much faster to load a website. This saves you data if you don’t have unlimited access, for example, on your phone. The ad blocker is also efficient for eliminating ads that appear during YouTube videos.
Stands Fair AdBlocker
The free Fair ad blocker from Stands works as a Chrome plug-in. It blocks pop-ups, malware and tracking, display ads and Youtube ads, but you’ll have to customize it to make it work best. You can even block Facebook and Google ads with this simple add-on.
This ad blocker works well, especially for a free service. The downside is that you’ll have to use Chrome, which is not the safest browser to be working with. It does give you more privacy, given that you won’t be tracked by advertisers, but it’s best to combine this ad blocker with other privacy measures.
This one is actually a browser, but we’ll include it in our list given that it has a built-in ad blocker. Opera loads up pages faster than many ad-filled browsers, and it’s mostly effective at keeping your browsing ad-free. Some of the trickier ads may slide past it, but you won’t have a problem with the most common display and pop-up ads.
You’ll likely need some help making your surfing as safe as possible, as well. We’ll go through the most common browsers so you’ll be able to keep your information safe, whatever you do online.
One thing to remember with your common browsers is that while most have a Send Do Not Track request option to stop you from being tracked, it doesn’t necessarily work. The fulfillment of these requests depends on the website, and there are no guarantees that these sites won’t track your activity.
Chrome is the go-to browser option for most internet users because it’s faster and more convenient than other browsers. The negative is that it can also make your information more vulnerable.
If you want to keep using Chrome, here are some ways to make it more private.
Use Incognito Mode
The incognito mode doesn’t keep you completely invisible, but it won’t allow Chrome to save cookies and search history. It’s the right option to use whenever you’re using a shared computer. Just remember that your IP address is still visible, so it doesn’t make all your web usage, like P2P sharing, safe on its own.
You can open an incognito window anytime in the Customize and Control button on the top right corner of Chrome. You can also use the keyboard shortcut Control+Shift+N.
Disable Location Tracking
Location tracking is useful for many things, from getting local weather to the correct language in search results. It also helps you find businesses and services near you. However, not everyone wants to share their location with Google all the time.
You can find this option in Settings by going to Privacy and Security, Site Settings, and selecting Location. From there, you can turn off your location tracking for specific websites.
Safe Browsing Protection
In your Privacy and Security menu, you’ll also find Safe Browsing Protection. If you activate this option, Chrome will periodically download a safe browsing list and alert you if the website you’re about to enter is harmful.
This helps protect your data from malware and phishing scams. You are, however, sharing the websites you visit with Google, but the information is used to protect you.
Check Your Syncing Settings
Google automatically syncs your bookmarks, apps, search history, and passwords through your account, but you can disable this in the settings.
It’s especially relevant if you use your Gmail account on your personal and work computer and want to keep your privacy. You should never use syncing on a public or shared computer.
To manage syncing, go to Settings and pick You and Google. Find the option Sync and Google Services and click on Manage What You Sync. Toggle off the switch Sync Everything to turn off data you don’t want to be synced with your account.
Clean Up Your Cookies
Cookies make your browsing more comfortable by storing some of your data, but they can also make you more vulnerable to an attack.
Blocking cookies completely will make your browsing unpleasant because many sites depend on cookies to work. A good alternative is to set the browser to automatically clear them after each session.
You can find this in the Privacy and Security settings under Cookies, and choosing the option Keep Local Data Until You Quit Your Browser.
Blocking Pop-Ups and Redirects
Blocking pop-ups doesn’t just make your browsing more fluid; it can also make it safer. Accidentally clicking on a pop-up that contains malware or spyware is common, but you can make this a little easier on yourself by blocking them in Settings.
Go to Privacy and Security, then pick Site Security and go to Pop-Ups and Redirects. You can block them for all sites, or just the ones you don’t trust.
Chrome isn’t able to block all types of pop-ups, so if you want to get rid of all of the intrusive ads, check out the list of ad blockers above.
Passwords and Payment Information
Having your browser automatically fill out your password and credit card information makes it easier to shop, but it’s also a possible security risk. You can deactivate these in Settings by going to Passwords and Payment Methods if needed.
Mozilla Firefox is a better option than Chrome for security, and it’s pretty fast to use. Firefox also comes with regular updates for improved safety. But using this browser incorrectly won’t help you keep your information more private.
Here are some ultimate privacy guide tips to make Firefox work better for your security.
Firefox already blocks many third-party cookies automatically, but you can see more options in the Privacy and Security menu by clicking on Enhanced Tracking Protection.
This option blocks social media trackers, tracking cookies, fingerprinting that identifies you and your device, and crypto-miners that use your computer to mine cryptocurrencies. When you’ve enabled this option, you’ll always be able to see when it’s working properly.
On the left side of the URL on any website, you should see a small shield icon. This turns purple when Firefox is blocking trackers and malicious scripts, and gray when there’s no tracking detected. If the shield is crossed out, it means tracking protection is turned off. You can click on the shield to turn it back on.
Private Browsing Mode
When using a shared computer, always opt for private browsing mode. While it won’t keep you invisible, it will automatically erase your cookies and browsing history when you finish browsing.
Use an ad-blocking extension like one of these recommended by Firefox. Not giving your information to advertisers helps keep you safe, but not all ad blocker plug-ins work on Chrome.
The truthful answer in our ultimate privacy guide is that you won’t reap all the benefits of staying away from Chrome and Edge if you keep using these search engines.
It’s best to set up a secure search engine like DuckDuckGo as your homepage and default search engine. This will keep your data away from the massive companies that sell your information to advertisers.
Disable Data Collection
While Firefox won’t store your information to sell it to marketers, it still collects some information with the purpose of improving its product. If you want, you can disable all data collection on Firefox.
You’ll find this option in Options, Privacy and Security and picking Firefox Data Collection and Use. Uncheck the boxes for Allow Firefox to Send Technical and Interaction Data to Mozilla and Allow Firefox to Send Backlogged Crash Reports on Your Behalf.
We have to keep it honest in this ultimate privacy guide, and there are some definite negatives to using Microsoft Edge.
It’s among the least private and trustworthy browsers to use, as a recent study from Trinity College in Dublin noted. It sends constant identifiers linking the websites you visit on your device to Microsoft’s servers, and you cannot disable this feature.
If you do still want to use Edge, we did collect some tips in our ultimate privacy guide to make it work for you. You’ll find the Settings menu in the three little buttons on the upper right corner of your browser. Go to the Privacy, Search and Services page to find the following settings.
Basic Tracking Settings
If you don’t want to go into detail with trackers, you have an easy option right at the top of the Privacy page. There are three categories for tracking protection.
The Basic level only blocks trackers that are known to be harmful, such as the ones used for fingerprinting and crypto-mining. Balanced tracking protection protects those harmful trackers, as well as third-party trackers from sites you haven’t visited.
If you use the third level, Strict blocking of all trackers and cookies, remember that many websites will not work properly.
Block Cookies and Location Tracking
In the Cookies and Site Data section, you can either block all cookies or only third-party ones that can often be malicious. You can also select Send Do Not Track requests. There are no guarantees it will work, but it won’t do you any harm.
In this same section of the Settings menu, you can block sites from seeing your location.
Turn Off Cortana
Cortana is Microsoft’s version of Siri, an electronic assistant that’s designed to make your life easier by giving you suggestions and performing searches. However, to do so, it needs to track what you do.
If you don’t want Cortana to follow what you do when surfing on Edge, you can disable your virtual assistant in Settings. Go to Advanced Settings and scroll down to Cortana. Disable Have Cortana Assist Me in Microsoft Edge.
Block Unwanted Apps
To make sure you don’t download apps with a poor reputation that may hinder your privacy and security, go to the Privacy menu. Under Security, enable Block Potentially Unwanted Apps.
Disable Search Suggestions
One way to improve your privacy on Edge is by disabling search suggestions. This will prevent your data from being collected and sent to Microsoft. Just remember that, as we stated previously, this browser will still contact Microsoft’s servers and identify your device, so you’re not fully protected.
To disable search suggestions, go to Settings, followed by Privacy, Search and Services. Near the end, under Services, you’ll find the option Address Bar. Click on it and toggle off Show Me Search and Site Suggestions Using My Typed Characters.
Tor is a favorite in our ultimate privacy guide. It’s an open-source browser that many privacy-loving people choose to keep their browsing secure. It keeps you safe from tracking because it doesn’t connect to the websites directly, isolating them and encrypting your data three times, every time you send it.
Tor is the browser for people who want to keep their activity truly anonymous. It can be used for illicit activities, sure, but it’s also the go-to browser for confidential business information or journalism. It can also help people stay safe and anonymous in countries where internet usage is controlled.
Still, even this browser is only as good as your security practices online. If you want to get the most out of Tor and remain truly anonymous on the internet, you can follow these tips.
Your search engine choice will be highly relevant to your Tor usage because it will track your searches regardless of which browser you use. Even with a safe browser, Google, Yahoo and Bing will keep your search history, and you won’t be invisible online.
Use a private search engine like DuckDuckGo for your searches instead. It may not be as lightning-fast as Google, but you’ll keep your data private.
Update your OS
Keeping your operating system up to date will keep you safer. Software updates aren’t just for new features or minor operational bugs; they also give you more protection against new threats online. If your OS is vulnerable, so is your data.
Avoid Using Personal Information
If you truly want to keep your usage private, don’t use your personal information when using Tor. This includes your email account, your name and anything else that can identify you with your device. Also, avoid any usernames that you may have used that can be linked to your name.
For extra safety when communicating, use a temporary email address.
Don’t Use P2P
Tor isn’t the right choice for P2P sharing and torrenting services, and it’s designed to block file sharing. P2P sharing leaves your IP address exposed to others and makes you vulnerable, so it’s never safe.
If you use these tricks, browsing with Tor can be just about the highest privacy you can find online.
Browsing Habits for Privacy and Security
As you probably already know, your devices only remain safe as long as you keep them that way. We compiled some additional best practices and tips to make your internet usage safer and avoid compromising your privacy.
Always Use HTTPS
HTTPS before the website URL means that it’s secure and the information you send through the site is encrypted. HTTP, on the other hand, means the information is sent in normal text format and may be vulnerable to attacks.
You can also see a tiny lock on the browser’s address bar, right before the website. This essentially means the same thing as HTTPS.
For improved safety online, never send personal information through a website if you can’t see the lock or HTTPS on the address.
This is especially important when logging into your social media or email accounts, or when managing money. Whenever you make a purchase online, make sure you see the lock before sending your payment data.
If you want to keep your information secure on the internet, using two-factor authentication is key. Two-factor authentication ensures your accounts will be safe even if someone gets hold of your passwords.
When you log in from an unknown device, you’ll have to not only insert your password but also accept the connection from a previously approved device.
This sometimes means you’ll receive a message on your mobile phone with a code. In other cases, you can use an app like Google Authenticator or Authy on your phone or desktop to approve the entry.
Many services, from social media to email and professional networks and chats, use two-factor authentication. To stay safe, activate it on all your important accounts.
Your email account is usually the center of your online presence. It’s where you not only keep personal or professional correspondence, but it also works as a mechanism to recover other accounts if they’re ever compromised.
This is why hackers target email accounts. They’re among the most common forms of identity theft because an email account is such a focal point of entry to everything else.
- Use a strong password. A password manager can help keep many of those passwords in mind.
- Activate two-factor authentication. This way, no one can log into your account without having access to multiple passwords and devices.
- Avoid sending emails through public Wi-Fi. Unless you have a VPN, don’t use your email if you don’t have a secure connection.
- Don’t publish your email account. There’s no reason to keep your email account published, as it can make you more vulnerable to attacks.
- Use a secure email service. Some services encrypt the content of your emails so that it’s not readable to others.
- Think about what you want to share. It’s not always a good idea to send information that identifies us online, and email is rarely as safe as we think it is. Never share your bank account details or credit card information via email.
- Be careful with links and attachments. The most common phishing scams are fake security breaches, password resets and other emails containing links that seem to be from legitimate sources.
- Always assume it’s not safe. Remember that email is not the safest mode of communication, and act accordingly.
As you may already know, Gmail’s privacy isn’t the best in the business. But if you don’t want to switch to another provider because of its functionality, there are ways to improve it. Here’s our ultimate privacy guide to making the most out of your Gmail account.
Google used to have access to emails for advertising purposes. While it no longer does, some third party developers that are closely vetted can still access a restricted amount of your data.
You can review which apps have access to your account and which parts of it they can view at https://myaccount.google.com. Under Security, select Third-party apps with account access to review all of them and revoke permissions if necessary.
Gmail has now rolled out a new feature that’s great for people who value privacy and security: Confidential mode.
You’ll find it at the bottom of the text box whenever you’re writing a new email, and it lets you set an expiration date for the email. On top of this new self-destructing function, you can set it to be viewed only with an SMS passcode, and it can’t be copied, forwarded or printed.
Google has started using machine learning in Gmail messages, making it faster and easier for you to write them. The negative is that you know there’s a machine reading through your emails as you’re typing them, making suggestions and filling out your sentences for you.
You can turn this feature off in Gmail’s Settings menu. Under General, you’ll find Smart Compose. Select Writing suggestions off to turn off this feature.
Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP, is a common encryption method for safe online communication. It’s pretty strong and trustworthy, which is why it has converted into a trusted standard in encryption.
Encrypted Email Service Providers
You can find programs to encrypt your email or simply find an email service that automatically encrypts your data from end to end, such as the options below.
ProtonMail is an open-source software, and it’s free to create a basic account and download the app for iOS or Android. PGP encryption is automatically used in your emails between you and another Protonmail account.
The free version of ProtonMail has very few features, and the storage capacity is small. A basic paid subscription allows you to customize your domain and store up to 5GB of messages, as well as send encrypted emails to external, non-Proton recipients.
The higher-priced options also include a ProtonVPN subscription, unlimited messaging, and support for multiple users.
Tutanota is another widely used secure email provider that comes with end-to-end encryption. You can pick a free account that comes with 1GB of storage and encrypted calendar service or a paid subscription with more features.
Within Tutanota’s paid plans, you’ll have multiple calendars and customizable domains. You’ll also be able to buy more storage to improve from the basic plan’s 1GB up to 1TB.
Tutanota also doesn’t require your name or phone number, and it doesn’t log your IP address when using the service. Tutanota has apps for Android and iOS and desktop use, as well as a web-based service.
Antivirus and Firewall
The ultimate privacy guide wouldn’t be complete without mentioning antivirus programs. They’re necessary for fending off attacks from sites infected with malware, and we recommend getting one.
Is Antivirus Worth It?
The short answer is that getting an antivirus is worth it, even if you take other measures to protect your identity. Even though your operating system will already alert you to some of the dangers, an antivirus adds an extra layer of protection to your online activity.
There are so many free and paid options available that there’s no excuse for not having an antivirus set up on your computer. You can also get an antivirus together with a VPN purchase. Some antivirus programs also include password managers and parental controls, and it may be easier to get everything together as a bundle.
These are our ultimate privacy guide recommendations for the best antivirus programs.
Best Paid Antivirus: Bitdefender Antivirus Plus
Bitdefender comes near the top in pretty much all independent antivirus reviews because it works smoothly and has tons of additional safety features. Still, this antivirus doesn’t weigh too heavily and slow down your system.
It’s easy to set up and offers protection for up to three devices. It also offers secure file deletion, a password manager and a secure browser, as well as a tool for scanning Wi-Fi networks.
Best Free Antivirus: Kaspersky Security Cloud Free
Kaspersky is a top name in antivirus programs, and their Security Cloud Free is great basic protection for your computer. It effectively blocks malware on your computer, as well as Android and iOS.
With a paid subscription, you’ll unlock some of Kaspersky’s amazing bonus features, but the free version gives you the same level of always up-to-date protection.
What Is Firewall?
A firewall is security hardware or software that basically monitors your network connection and stops anyone from accessing it. It doesn’t necessarily protect you from viruses, so you’ll need both an antivirus and a firewall to keep yourself safe.
When and How To Use Firewall?
A firewall is useful for everybody, but it’s essential when you need to protect a business network or intranet from external attacks. All data entering or exiting your network should pass through a firewall.
Windows 10 comes with a built-in firewall called Microsoft Defender that should automatically be enabled on your computer. You can check this in System Settings, Firewall and Network Protection, by making sure the firewall options are on for public and personal networks.
Your Mac also has a built-in firewall, but it’s not enabled by default. You can check it in Security and Privacy in your System Settings.
You can also configure a firewall with additional software or hardware, or as a cloud-based service.
- Glasswire offers you a free, software-based service that monitors your network traffic.
- Cloudflare WAF is a cloud-based firewall solution that’s widely used. This makes it more effective at detecting threats.
- Avast Premium Security is a full internet security suite with one of the most effective firewalls.
Search engine use has a big impact on your security online, so make sure your efforts for ensuring privacy when browsing don’t come crashing down when using a search engine.
Here are our ultimate privacy guide tips for safety with search engines.
How To Search Privately
Most browsers, including Chrome and Firefox, have an incognito or private mode that won’t save your cookies and history. This is not completely private, though, and your IP address will still be visible.
Remember that if you use Google or Bing, you’re also sharing your search history with those companies. Clearing your browser’s search history is a good start, but you can also manage and delete information from your accounts.
DuckDuckGo is a search engine that doesn’t collect your data to sell it. This means it doesn’t save any personal information that could be connected to you, including your logins, your IP address or your search history.
And if the company doesn’t save this information, it can’t share it for marketing purposes. This means you won’t see targeted ads or have your searches shared with third parties.
You can set DuckDuckGo as your default search engine on all your devices, and download a handy Chrome extension on your desktop or an app for iOS or Android.
Our ultimate privacy guide also includes some handy tips for keeping your messaging private.
Whatsapp has improved its privacy by implementing end-to-end encryption, but there are still many ways to make it safer. To find these settings, go to your Whatsapp Settings and select the Accounts option followed by the Privacy menu.
- Location: Turn off location sharing in Whatsapp or only allow it when you’re actively sharing your location with another person.
- Last seen: You can make sure nobody, or only your contacts, can see the last time you were online.
- Read receipts: Turn off read receipts so that people won’t know if you’ve read their message.
- Account information: Make your profile picture and status only available to your contacts.
Telegram also offers some improved tools for safe communication.
- Secret chats: Telegram gives you the possibility to open secret chats with self-destructing messages and end-to-end encryption.
- Auto-delete account: Set up your account to automatically shut down and eliminate all your contacts and messages after a certain period without use.
- Voice calls: Opt out of accepting Telegram voice calls, or only accept them from your contacts.
- Forwarded messages: Make sure your messages can’t be forwarded to others without your consent by disabling forwarding in Settings.
Signal is an open-source messaging app that uses end-to-end encryption for text, voice and video calls. It does require your phone number to work, but otherwise, Signal logs a minimal amount of data. Many consider it to be the most private messaging app available today.
Among its safety features, Signal includes disappearing messages and view-once photos and videos, as well as a secure connection indicator for Android.
IMessage is encrypted end-to-end, like the rest of your iPhone. As long as your account is secure, your messages generally are as well.
Here are our tips for making it even safer.
- Turn off lock screen preview: Go to Notifications in your iPhone settings and choose Messages. There, choose Never so that your text message notifications aren’t visible.
- Filter unknown senders: This option in your Messages settings will create a separate list of senders that are not in your contacts.
- Read receipts: You can disable read receipts in Messages.
- Share picture: Opt out of sharing your profile picture.
Facebook’s Messenger app has had a couple of important updates, but it’s still not our recommendation in this ultimate privacy guide for you to use this app. Facebook doesn’t use end-to-end encryption, so your data is always vulnerable to viewing by others.
You can, however, make any conversation a little safer by tapping on the upper right corner and pressing Secret. This way, you can set up a separate conversation and even use self-destructing messages.
Social media, by definition, is about sharing information, but you can keep it more private. Here are some of our ultimate privacy guide tips for the most common social media apps.
Facebook has a lot of data on you, from your relationships to your consumption habits. You can take back some of the control.
Facebook doesn’t only follow your activity on the site but around the web. You can turn off this tracking in Settings by going to Your Facebook Information and selecting Off-Facebook Activity.
Stop sharing some of your information with marketers on Facebook through Settings, by selecting Ads and the option Ad Settings and picking Data. There, deactivate all the settings.
Visibility on Search Engines
You can make yourself invisible in search engines, to keep your personal life more private from future employers, for example.
To do this, go to your Facebook Settings and click Privacy. Click on Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile? to edit your preferences.
Stop Facebook from tracking you and using your location to target ads by switching off your location. You can do this in your phone settings by denying location access to Facebook, or in the Facebook app in Privacy Shortcuts and Manage your location settings.
Limit Who Can See You
While sharing your life with your friends is fun, you don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry seeing your profile, posts and photos. Each time you make a new post, Facebook gives you the opportunity to change the privacy settings and choose who can see it.
To do the same with your previous posts and photos, go to Privacy in Settings and choose Who Can See My Posts?. Here you can set the default for your future posts and also select Limit Past Posts.
Also, take a look at How People Find and Contact You and avoid sharing your phone number or email.
If you want to keep your Instagram posts and stories private, here are a couple of good ways to do it.
- Keep your account private. With a private account, only people you’ve approved can follow you.
- Hide your stories from specific people. Go to Settings, Privacy, and pick Story to stop your stories from being visible to certain people.
- Block sharing your stories. In that same spot, toggle off the option for others to share your stories.
- Make a list of close friends. For stories that are not for everybody’s eyes, make a list of close friends.
- Turn off personalized ads. Go to Settings and pick Ad Preferences and Ad Settings. Turn off Ads based on data from partners and Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products that you see elsewhere to stop sharing information for your ads.
A huge part of your privacy and security on Snapchat depends on who and what you decide to share. Here are some adjustments you can find in Snapchat’s settings.
- Limit your audience: If posting personal things, be sure to allow only your friends to see them.
- Pick who can contact you: Disable the See Me in Quick Add option so people won’t find you without knowing your handle.
- Turn off targeted ads: In your Ad settings, you can turn off activity and audience-based advertising.
- Stop sharing your location: Location stickers on your snaps can be fun, but they’re also threatening to your online privacy.
If you store information online, from personal photos to work files, here’s what you should know.
Your Google Drive files are private by default, but you can share them with others if needed. Google’s sharing tools are what make it a user favorite, but remember to keep as much of your work private as possible.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to only share one file with one person at a time, instead of opening them for anybody to view with just the link.
Also, remember that Google Drive isn’t encrypted, so it’s not the ideal place for confidential data.
Your iCloud account is encrypted, as is everything on your iPhone. Just remember that your information on iCloud is as safe as your password, so it’s best to use two-factor authentication.
Encrypted Cloud Storages
The best part about these services is that the company doesn’t have access to your encryption key, and won’t be able to share it, even with a warrant. Your data is truly yours alone.
Internet of Things
The internet is now not only on your smartphone but also on your TV, home devices like Amazon Echo and your car. It’s comfortable, but it’s also a security risk because these devices gather information about your activity.
This is why our ultimate privacy guide has to include some tips for keeping yourself continuously safe.
- Use strong passwords on all your accounts. This includes your devices.
- Read the fine print before buying. Make sure you understand what data they collect and for what reason.
- Disable unnecessary features. If you can, disable the smart features you don’t need.
- Phone access. If possible to do while keeping the device functional, deny it access to your phone.
- Update firmware. Check for updates regularly. Dated systems are often the gateway for security breaches.
- Turn off voice input. For your privacy in the car or at home, disable the mic on your home and vehicle devices. You can then make commands using a button or remote instead.
- Disable voice purchasing. To make sure no one else can buy anything using your online devices, it’s safer to disable voice purchasing.
- Protect your car keys. Cars with keyless entry and start can be broken into or stolen by thieves using special digital devices. To prevent this, turn off your key fob if possible when not in use, or hide it in an anti-theft box or bag that blocks signals.
In the Public
Even if you have a great privacy setup, you can still be putting yourself at risk when using the internet in a public place. Here are our ultimate privacy guide tips for making sure nobody watches.
Privacy glass is a protective glass layer you apply over your smartphone or laptop’s screen. It makes your screen only visible when viewed up front, not from the sides, at an angle. If you need to manage personal information in public, this kind of glass can be very useful.
Visiting Sensitive Data
Even with a privacy screen, you need to be careful with where you review sensitive data, such as business or financial information.
Whenever you’re using shared devices or public Wi-Fi, you’re potentially sharing your information with bad-faith actors. Make sure you only share information if you’re on a secure network or a VPN.
Try to keep Wi-Fi and Bluetooth deactivated on your computer and smartphone when you’re in public, as they can make your devices more vulnerable.
The Bottom Line
So, you’ve made it through our ultimate privacy guide, and it’s time to put all the things you’ve learned into practice. Check your computer and smartphone settings and the privacy policies of the social media you use, and keep your operating systems updated.
Your data is only as private as your habits, so staying safe always requires some action on your part. Use strong passwords and antivirus, and be careful with what you share on social media.
And, of course, share this ultimate privacy guide with your friends and family so they can keep themselves safe.