Internet Surveillance: What is it & How to avoid it

Internet surveillance

One of the significant issues that are being felt around the world right now is internet surveillance.

But what exactly is it, and how can you avoid falling victim to it?

In this article, I’ll be finding out.

The internet may have brought a lot of benefits that have improved our lives, but it also allowed others to spy on the masses without any real effort.

So let’s discover what surveillance on the internet actually is.

What exactly is ‘Internet Surveillance’?

Internet surveillance is the monitoring, tracking and logging of your activity, either by governments, companies or even individuals.

Governments keep passing laws that allow online surveillance, often under the veil of ‘security’ reasons, using the threats of terrorism and criminal activities as an excuse.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) continue to monitor and record everything that we do online.

Websites, search engines, and entire companies are doing the same.

Not to mention hackers, who are ready to steal any data they can get their hands on in hopes of selling it or misusing it.

It is safe to say that internet surveillance has reached dizzy heights, but it’s unlikely to stop or lessen anytime soon.

This is why you, like everybody else, needs to protect themselves.

How to avoid Internet Surveillance?

Obviously, the best way to avoid online surveillance is to end your online presence.

But, since you’re not going to do that (I wouldn’t either!), there are other methods that you need to use in order to keep yourself safe and your information private.

Fortunately, there are several ways of doing this, and they do not require a lot of effort on your part. It’s impossible to avoid surveillance online completely but you can severely limit it.

However, they will require changing your habits somewhat.

With that said, let’s take a look at how all of the mentioned entities conduct online surveillance, and what you can do to protect yourself.

1. Cookies

Computer with padlock and letter

Cookies are a well-known method of establishing ties between your device and a website that you visited.

In fact, their primary purpose is to identify users and prepare customised web pages or target you directly in some manner.

They do this by saving information about you and your preferences. That way, next time when you visit a particular website, things are exactly as you had left them.

While this does have a practical use, it also robs you of your privacy.

The website knows who you are and what your preferences are, which already means that your identity is compromised. However, there are a few things that you can do to protect yourself.

For example, you can delete them regularly, or turn them off entirely in your internet browser.

Check out this handy guide from CookiesandYou detailing how to disable them on most popular devices and browsers.

Lastly, you could try to limit yourself from going to any site, and only use those who respect your privacy and don’t use cookies in the first place, although that will be very limiting for you.

2. Tracking location

Padlock with cloud and shield

These days, everyone has a smartphone, and thanks to social media, there is a significant trend of sharing too much information online, just so that you can show where you visited and what you did.

This, of course, includes sharing your location.

Whether you choose to tag yourself at a restaurant, hotel, concert, or some other location – you are making it easy for anyone to track your movements.

You don’t even need to do that much – it is enough to have your GPS tracker enabled, even if you are only using it in order to use apps like Google Maps.

Google will know where you are at all times, and others might also.

Jennifer Bridges of Reputation Defender said, “More than 1,000 apps, including Yelp, Foursquare, Google Maps, Uber, MapMyRun, Tinder, and Facebook, use location tracking services” [1].

The safest way to bypass this issue is to disable your GPS unless you really need it and not to tag yourself on social media.

It’s also worth being aware that the photos you take can often include accurate location data.

Often known as ‘Geotagging’ or ‘EXIF data’. Ensure you disable this otherwise you’re giving pinpoint location to anyone you share the photo with or who has access to it.

3. Google tracking

Computer with globe and padlock

While we are at the topic of Google and its products, it is known to pretty much everyone in the world how information-hungry Google is.

Sure, that helps with providing you with better search results when you use its search engines, but Google records a lot more than just your search engine entries.

The problem is that it is challenging to get rid of it.

You can stop using Google and replace it with anonymous search engines like DuckDuckGo, but that alone is not enough.

It would help if you also stopped using Gmail, Google Maps, Google Drive, and every other Google product.

It would also be beneficial if you replaced Chrome browser with something like Brave or the Tor Browser.

Escaping Google is not easy, but there are steps that you can take to minimise its ability to track you.

A Guardian newspaper report on Google tracking said, “The data Google has on you can fill millions of Word documents” [2].

It’s also worth considering using a VPN and connecting to overseas locations to appear to be elsewhere. You can check out 21 of the best VPN services here.

4. Online traffic

Alarm bells

Whenever you communicate online, there is a stream of online traffic that connects you and the website or service that you are using.

Browsing websites basically comes down to your device sending a request for information, and the site responding by providing that information.

While this traffic is mostly protected by encryption these days, thanks to the ‘HTTPS‘ protocol, not all sites make use of it.

It doesn’t, however, cover something known as ‘DNS requests‘.

These are how the internet translates names of websites into a computer-readable number format. This alone can give away the types of sites you’re visiting.

If you want to be fully secure, you need to apply encryption yourself.

That includes online browsing, messaging, and pretty much any other action you perform on the internet.

The best way to protect your messages is to use encrypted messengers like Telegram or encrypt your entire internet connection using a VPN.

5. Public Wi-Fi

Hidden password on computer screen

Public hotspots can be very alluring for when you need to check something online, make an order, find a specific location, or a plethora of other tasks.

You might even use them to randomly browse the web while waiting for your order in restaurants or coffee shops, or while sitting in your hotels, airports, and alike.

But, no matter how convenient they are, they are also dangerous.

Since public Wi-Fi is available to everyone, you never know who is connected, apart from you.

The European Cybercrime Centre, Europol said, “anyone nearby can easily hop onto the network and see what you’re doing” [3].

It might be a random stranger who is just passing by, or it could be a hacker looking for their next victim.

Hackers often use public Wi-Fi hotspots as hunting grounds, and sometimes, they set them up themselves in hopes of attracting unsuspecting individuals.

They can then connect to your device, infect it with malware, steal data, and more.

It’s better therefore to use your mobile internet connection instead of public Wi-Fi. However, if that’s not an option using a VPN can protect against many types of data leaks and attacks.

However, it’s worth noting that any website using HTTPS is already secure, so accessing sites like your bank should (in theory) already be protected.

Conclusion

In general, modern technologies have revolutionised the world time and time again.

Thanks to the internet, we can now connect to anyone, anywhere, communicate efficiently, share our thoughts and knowledge, or gain understanding that we did not previously have, all in a matter of seconds.

We can learn any skill, play games, watch movies and shows, listen to music, and do countless other things.

However, all this data comes at a cost. Usually someone, somewhere is recording it and using it to their advantage.

Above I’ve rounded up five main areas to consider but I would love to hear what you’ve already been doing to protect yourself against surveillance online. Let me know in the comments section below.

Sources

  1. ReputationDefender | Why geotracking is a growing threat to online privacy
  2. The Guardian | Are you ready? Here is all the data Facebook and Google have on you
  3. Europol | Risks of using Public Wi-Fi

Illustrations © Ekaterina Muzyka | Dreamstime.com

Ali Raza

Author: Ali Raza

Ali is a journalist with a keen interest in VPN usage. He is an expert in the field and has been covering VPN related topics for VPNCompare and numerous well-respected publications for many years.

Comments

  1. Avatar libbie

    Thank you for this detailed and easy to read report: I would appreciate links to, or an article on, accessing VPN hep/forum sites re: troubleshooting. i.e., I am unable to read or send emails via my MAIL program when my VPN (NORD) is enabled, no matter which location. Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up to our newsletter

Get the latest privacy news, expert VPN guides & TV unblocking how-to’s sent straight to your inbox.