The only thing worse than this influence is the fact that Google has become deeply embedded in our lives. If you so much as view a web page with a single Google ad, they can track you in very clever ways.
When you use Android + Google search + Google Maps + view web sites with ads, Google is essentially gathering data on everything you do.
It would be naive to assume that this data isn’t finding its way into the hands of folks like the NSA… The point of the Ed Snowden “revelations” wasn’t to make you safer; it was to scare the living crap out of you. Nothing changed, despite the very public declarations that all is better now.
Well, okay… But Google search is handy. Is there a better alternative? There sure is!
Getting Started with DuckDuckGo
Right, so this is pretty quick. Just go here: https://duckduckgo.com
Now, search for something.
Wasn’t that easy?
By default, DuckDuckGo claims they do NOT save your search history, track your browser, record your IP and associate it with your browsing habits/history, etc.
In short, they apparently do not do everything Google does… but they do give you nice search results!
Tweak your Privacy Settings
- Click the Privacy button
- Make sure HTTPS is ON (should already be on by default)
- Turn GET requests OFF
- Make sure Redirect (when necessary) is ON
- Click Save and Exit
Next, you turned off GET requests, which I’ll get to below.
Finally, you want to make sure Redirect is on because DuckDuckGo tries to protect your privacy by preventing the web site you’re going to from knowing the search terms you used to get there. In other words, the remote web site will know you came from DuckDuckGo, but they won’t see anything else.
The DuckDuckGo browser Add-On: Don’t use it
Okay, this one is going to annoy you. Go ahead and install it if you want to, but it reduces your privacy.
Remember when you turned off GET requests above? Well, by default, DuckDuckGo and Google both use GET requests for searches. When you search via the Chrome or Firefox DuckDuckGo search bar, they both always do GET requests.
Simply put, a GET request means that your search terms are visible in the address bar of your browser. With POST requests, those search terms are invisible.
A picture is worth a thousand words, so:
Why does this matter?
When you use HTTPS to browser a web site, the traffic between the web site and your browser is encrypted. That means nobody can spy on or modify the content you’re viewing (more or less).
BUT… The actual URL (or web address) you are visiting is visible to your ISP and anyone else who’s watching!
With HTTP, the URLs you visit are known by anyone watching, and the content of those web pages can be seen and even modified by Evil People.
With HTTPS, the URLs you visit are still known by anyone watching, but the content of those web pages cannot be seen or modified by Evil People.
With HTTPS + POST requests, the URL doesn’t reveal anything, and the content of those pages cannot be seen by anyone except you.
So, you want to use POST requests. When you tell DuckDuckGo to prefer POST requests, your browser sends your search terms in a different way such that those search terms are not visible in the address bar, like so:
That’s because my browser sent a POST request to duckduckgo.com – over an encrypted HTTPS connection – so no one watching has any idea of what I actually searched for!
Just remember: to use POST requests, you’ll need to bookmark https://duckduckgo.com and click it each time to do your searches – instead of using your browser’s built-in search bar.
Finally, there are some other things you can set in DuckDuckGo’s options.
For example, in Settings -> General, the default for directions and such is Bing Maps. You can change that to something else if you’d like.
You can even turn off advertisements on the General page for 0 tracking.
So there you have it: use DuckDuckGo, and you’ll be searching and surfing with a lot more privacy!