When considering electronic privacy, our activities on the internet are by far the most significant source of information for outside parties. Unfortunately, internet privacy is nonexistent in its default mode. But thankfully, it is not difficult to remove a major portion of our electronic footprint.

There are essentially two aspects of internet privacy which must be considered: active and passive releases of information. We actively submit information on ourselves each time we visit and/or interact with a website. Additionally, cross-site information can be accessed using passive data storage techniques.

The first step towards increasing internet anonymity is reviewing the method of accessing the internet itself. Browsers are by far the most common interface typical internet users employ for access, so proper selection and configuration goes a long way towards solving privacy woes. The most popular browsers in the world are Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera.

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When frolicking around the internet, little pieces of information are continually being dropped off and picked up through the browser application. Using a little bit of elbow grease and know-how will dramatically reduce the information stowaways. Additionally, it is wise to utilize a browser which has robust capabilities to limit these types of exposures. My personal recommendation is Mozilla Firefox because of the large numbers of add-ons available and the open source nature, thus dramatically reducing the potential for “back door” access.

Here are a few easy steps to reduce your electronic footprint:

1) Geolocation allows your physical location as declared by your IP address to be known to the site you are visiting, should it request it. Obviously, this is a piece of information most people concerned about privacy have no intention on sharing. Thankfully, every major browser prompts the user before supplying geographical information to webpages. Not so thankfully, geolocation is virtually impossible to turn off when using mobile devices. More on that later.

Within Firefox you can permanently turn off geolocation by typing about:config in the address bar. It’ll bring up a warning message, just click Okay. Type geo.enabled in the search bar which opened up. Double click on the geo.enabled preference and it will turn bold and the Value will turn False. Location-Aware Browsing is now disabled.

2) Do Not Track (DNT) is an option which all browsers support, but only IE engages by default. Within other browsers, you simply open the Options/Preferences window and click the box turning on the DNT option. Simple as pie. The caveat to this is that DNT is not widely respected. The only two companies altering their data collection practices that most people would be familiar with are Twitter and Pinterest. The remainder are advertisers and analytics companies.

3) Cookies are not only delicious, but they are the primary source of information leaks within internet activities. Initially, cookies were devised for user convenience. They are simply tiny text files which are saved to the browser containing various pieces of information. As originally designed, this sort of information would be site preferences and bits of user data a person my not wish to enter every single time he visited a website. If you’ve ever clicked the “remember me” box in a login screen or purchased items online, you’ve been subjected to cookies.

Unfortunately, the original cookie recipe has gradually been co-opted for less honorable means. Web designers discovered that cookies could be utilized to actually track the browsing history of users across the internet. This is done through the continual placement and retrieval of cookies as you go from one site to the next, thus constructing an extremely detailed exposé of your habits and interests.

Equally frustrating is that many innocuous websites require cookies to function properly. The solution, then, is to find a healthy balance between reasonable privacy and wearing a tinfoil hat. Conveniently, web browsers include an option to block third-party cookies. These are typically advertising and tracking cookies which are not related to the particular website you are currently visiting. I personally recommend completely blocking third-party cookies and allowing exceptions on a case-by-case basis as needed.

4) As most people will readily recognize, the effects of eating too many cookies can be a pain to remove at times. Some companies even make it difficult for us to do this. Google is quite notorious for privacy concerns and for good reason. They went so far as to design website code which would circumvent browser settings blocking third-party cookies. Yet another reason why I do not recommend using the Google Chrome browser.

Internet Explorer comes with a function called Tracking Protection Lists which are supposed to effectively derail any attempts at circumventing browser cookie preferences. However, it is a bit confusing and does not always work as advertised. Once again, however, the market has provided an excellent tool for us to smash attempts by massively invasive companies such as Facebook and Google at getting our private usage data. Disconnect is a pay-what-you-want add-on which continually monitors for the pesky circumventing cookies and keeps your private stuff… well, private.

By implementing these four tips, a great portion of your internet usage will be removed from public scrutiny and simply become your own private habits again. For those who wish an even greater sense of privacy, a subsequent article will be forthcoming with additional active and passive tools which are easily implemented.