One thing I have been doing is using the Tor browser. Or trying to, at least. Tor is open source and uses Firefox as a base. It looks nice.
Maybe I should back up here. I really don't claim to be a guru when it comes to privacy settings, but it is a topic which interests me. I've been using Orbot on my Galaxy S III for about six months, though I'll admit that I am aware that I am not using it correctly (I'm still too scared to root my phone without assistance so I can install Cyanogenmod). I will also humbly admit that I am oversimplifying the following explanations. My understanding of how these programs operate is incredibly basic, and I am very open to criticism, advice and correction - as well as help rooting my phone. Seriously, please, someone help me.
Those that know about Tor may immediately think that it is only for use regarding shady dealings, but I can assure you, my Pinterest account is anything but. The NSA has definitely been in the news lately, but there are many other interests out there vying for information, some more sinister than others. Fortunately, with the right precautions many of these interests can be blocked rather easily. Unfortunately, that is not without sacrifice, sacrifice I'm not sure I can withstand.
To make it painfully simple (explain to me like I'm 5), Tor works in a number of ways to block outside sources from being able to read your crap, or at least where from which your crap is being sourced. In order to do this, Tor must also block some useful crap that may or may not be legitimately tracking every damn move you make. This includes, but is not limited to, services such as flash, Quicktime, any browser plugin (this one is especially painful for me), any connect service, and yes, even Youtube (though there is a beta that can be used).
I really love sharing. Going without my Pin It button, Shareaholic account, Reddit Enhancement Suite, and Tapermonkey are quite painful for me. In addition, say goodbye to browser based games (I've been dabbling in Perfect World's Fortuna as of late), the ease that is autofill (sorry r/freebies), and makes the use of sites such as Pinterest painful (I don't run bots, you got the wrong guy, I swear!). So painful, in fact, that I was only able to completely use the Tor browser for two days. Before you break out the flaming pitchforks, though, this is hardly the only reason.
If it was just extensions and sharing, I really think I could have powered through it permanently (honestly!). One of the ways that Tor keeps its surfers safe, however, is by muddling the IP addresses. Muddling is a very technical term for "I don't completely know what the eff I'm talking about." Tor can't block what is being viewed by the NSA and Facebook, that's not its purpose. If I'm looking at videos of drunken squirrels, well, the NSA can see that someone really likes drunken squirrels. What it can't see is that someone connecting to my specific IP likes drunken squirrels. BTW if you haven't Googled drunken squirrel videos, you are seriously missing out. This feature, though, makes the browser very, very slow. I'm actually typing this in Chrome right now. Anything to do with Blogger and site connecting took so long that it wasn't even worth trying to complete. In hindsight, this may have also contributed to my lack of posting. Chronic pain and slow browser pain? Jeeze, it's now a wonder I sat at my PC at all.
This linking of Tor nodes is the main feature of Tor, though, and it works well for what it does. Looking at where I have connected from most recently through my Google account reveals that I am in New Hampshire (and y'all, I don't live there). Now, this also has weaknesses. If anyone looks hard enough, one's browsing habits can be revealed, regardless of anonymity. One habit of which I am particularly guilty is using a few of the same usernames for all of the sites I frequent. If anyone knows one of my usernames, all he or she must do is a quick Google search to connect me to other accounts. Again, I have nothing to hide, but sometimes that's just not what it's all about.
The recent NSA revelation fiasco, which should have come as a surprise to absolutely no one, has raised a lot of basic questions that we should have been asking all along. I've heard this gem over and over, "I have nothing to hide, what should I be afraid of?" In addition to ending that sentence with a preposition, not that I care, u mad?, there's a lot wrong with that kind of thinking. In a perfect world this would be logical, but in our world it's just plain stupid.
We've seen time and again raids on homes where the owner and/or dog has been shot, only to find out that (OOPS!), wrong house, wrong information, wrong IP, you name it. Warrant to search a home? Hahahahaha! That's hilarious. There's no question that the government in the U.S. has not only overreached it's power recently, but has been doing so, for oh, I don't know, since the Adams administration. The federal government is a primary culprit, but state and local governments are also far from innocent.
But it's more than mistakes. Why should I have to prove I've done nothing wrong if there is no evidence of my doing so? I doubt any sources even need to be cited to prove that handing over privacy has in any way made us safer. But there is proof, a lot of it, in fact.
When I traveled more internationally, I was quite accustomed to being poked, prodded and scanned. If you need to make flights, putting up fights just to make points to the TSA is really counteractive. Not that the TSA really cares. But being able to compare how I was treated and scanned in some of the largest airports in the world really made me question how the U.S. loves blanket surveillance at the cost of right to privacy, and the dolla dolla bill, y'all. LAX, ahem, the ninth circle of Hell, has always seemed to think that I am deserving of the full body scanner. I suppose a petite, 5'2'', Caucasian wearing shorts and flip flops is particularly threatening. I remember the first time I was asked to step in the scanner, and honestly I never really questioned it. Which entirely contradicts my personality. It likely had something to do with my lack of understanding of just how much the scanner revealed.
But these multi-million dollar radiation bots aren't necessary in Narita, Inchon, and Suvarnabhumi. Every single attendant in these airports is professional, highly trained, friendly, and efficient. What a stark contrast to every TSA agent in which I have ever had the pleasure to meet. And, you know, it really sounds like I am just jumping on the bandwagon, but it's the honest truth when stating that the TSA agents I have encountered have the literacy of a 5th grader and the personality of a water moccasin. And I am known for my generosity.
That's just the TSA, I know, but it's a pretty damn good example of a loss of privacy in which no one wins. No one is safer. Well, I'm sure the company that's making billions off of those machines is happy.
And what does this all have to do with the Tor browser!? Well, everything. No one, not the government, Facebook, Google, or any advertising company needs to see what drunken squirrel videos I like the most.
Too bad it's slow as Hell. I'm just not man enough, I guess. The question does arise in this, though. Why don't you just use the Tor browser for, you know, certain things. I hate to break it to you, but there's nothing I do that actually needs to be hidden. I don't download anything other than what I have legitimately paid for and open source freeware. This is about solidarity, principle, and creating a larger network of people that will say no to surveillance. If Tor isn't used for everything, even day-to-day browsing, then what good does it do? If lots of people don't use the network, how anonymous is it, really?
Sorry, my peoples. I am weak. There are a few extensions I can suggest if you are like me, and want to feel a bit safer (but aren't completely) while sticking it to the man. I'm going to list some extensions from Chrome, but I'm sure all of these exist for Firefox in some manner.
Google Analytics Opt-out Add-on (by Google)
IBA Opt-out (by Google)
HTTPS Everywhere - one of my favorites, also used by Tor
Ghostery - I've heard some recent rumors lately regarding their use of information, so I can't comment on their legitimacy any longer, but their comprehensive list of advertising companies is impressive
I will warn you, use extensions at your own risk. Do your homework. It doesn't matter what antivirus you use or what vpn you put into place, your discretion is the first line of defense to your personal information. Companies that were once trusted can easily change hands and become what they were originally intended to fight. Any extension, addon, app, or game usually requires some kind of access to your data. Before you download it you give consent. Read carefully what it asks to access. A game does not need to be able to read your emails and know all of your passwords, if it asks for that information, it's usually best to just not use the game. It sucks, but that is sometimes the cost of privacy. The extensions listed above are no exception.
If you're a better person than me, download Tor.