Online privacy: Best browsers, settings, and tips

Everything you do online is tracked when you use your browser. But you can fight back.

data protection / security / risk management / data privacy / GDPR
Anya Berkut / Getty Images

“You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it,” Scott McNealy said of online privacy back in 1999, a view the former CEO of the now-defunct Sun Microsystems reiterated in 2015. Despite the hue and cry his initial remarks caused, he’s been proven largely correct.

Cookies, beacons, digital signatures, trackers, and other technologies on websites and in apps let advertisers, businesses, governments, and even criminals build a profile about what you do, who you know, and who you are at very intimate levels of detail. Remember that 2012 story about how Target could tell a teenager was pregnant before her parents knew, based on her online activities? That is the norm today. Google and Facebook are the most notorious commercial internet spies, and among the most pervasive, but they are hardly alone.

The technology to monitor everything you do has only gotten better. And there are many new ways to monitor you that didn’t exist in 1999: always-listening agents like Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri, Bluetooth beacons in smartphones, cross-device syncing of browsers to provide a full picture of your activities from every device you use, and of course social media platforms like Facebook that thrive because they are designed for you to share everything about yourself and your connections so you can be monetized. Trackers are the latest silent way to spy on you in your browser. CNN, for example, had 60 running when I checked recently.

Apple’s Safari 14 browser features the built-in Privacy Monitor that really shows how much your privacy is under attack today. It is pretty disconcerting to use, as it reveals just how many tracking attempts it thwarted in the last 30 days, and exactly which sites are trying to track you and how often. On my most-used computer, I’m averaging about 125 tracking deflections per week.

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