Twitter is completely different to Facebook – rather than being a social hub for friends like Facebook is, Twitter is best thought of as a social broadcasting network. Everything you tweet – everything – is viewable by anyone on the planet. Yes, even if you reply to a tweet directly addressing that person, anyone else can cruise by your Twitter timeline and read it.
So if you’re on Twitter under your real name, always keep that in mind. Never tweet anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable having a stranger hear you say, and never tweet personal info that could give away things such as financial details, your date of birth, your address or the like.
You can make your Twitter profile private – which requires you to approve every follower, and only lets them see your tweets – but that runs kind of counter to the very purpose of Twitter in the first place!
Your Browser’s “Incognito” Mode is Not a Guarantee of Privacy
Modern web browsers have a special browsing mode built in – Google Chrome calls it “Incognito”, while Firefox and Safari just call it “Private Browsing” (both Chrome and Safari have these modes available on their mobile apps as well). This mode opens a new browser window – which usually looks slightly different to the normal one so you’re always aware which mode you’re in – and lets you browse the internet as normal. But unlike the normal browser, no trace of your adventures is left behind on your PC. No cookies, no browsing history, no usernames or passwords, nothing. Firefox even limits the tracking that can be done by third parties like advertisers in this mode (something better done with add-ons – more on that shortly). Sounds like a foolproof way to stay private, right?
Well, yes and no. The first thing you need to remember is that every site you visit still knows you’re there, and logs your visit by your IP address (the unique number you’re given every time you log in that can be used to identify exactly who you are). Additionally, your ISP now keeps logs of every web site you visit as well – not because they want to, but because it was forced on them by Government legislation (the so-called “metadata law”). Now, nobody’s going to have casual access to that information, and if you’re doing nothing illegal, then it’s not anything to unduly worry about. It also doesn’t include usernames, passwords or anything of that sort – and with most web sites these days, the actual data that flows between you and the site is encrypted, so it can’t be spied on. But do be aware that when it comes to the list of sites you visit, you’re not invisible.
To keep your browsing truly private, you’ll need to use what’s known as a VPN service. A VPN encrypts all of your internet data and sends it via a special, secure computer which you then appear to the world as browsing from. With a good VPN, your online activity can’t be traced back to you at all – though your ISP will still record your connections to it, so you can’t hide the fact that you’re using one in the first place. If staying anonymous online is of particular importance to you, a VPN is the way to do it. There’s a huge range of VPN services to choose from – including ones that have a free service tier, such as TunnelBear.
Privacy Add-Ons Are Your Friend
Many websites have become increasingly aggressive in using various web tools and tricks to keep an eye on you as you browse around the web. Advertisers can drop “cookies” when you visit a site that can be read by other sites to build up a profile about you, ultimately letting them push ads targeted at what they see as your online interests based on the sites you visit. It doesn’t just compromise your privacy, either – the various trackers and beacons used by some sites can cause web pages to take much longer to load.
Modern web browsers have the ability to use free “add-ons” (also known as extensions) to do a huge range of different useful things that enhance the basic functionality of your web browser. There’s two very useful add-ons that you’ll want to get a hold of to help keep your privacy intact while browsing.