Goodbye, Facebook and goodbye, Vkontakte!
Clearing or even completely removing your profile from various social networks is one of the simplest steps to help you to hide the details of your life from prying eyes. You should, however, bear in mind that most social networks not only allow you to restore your profile within a month after its deletion, but they also keep data on former users on their servers for quite a while. For instance, after deactivating your Facebook page, you still have 14 days to get back into the virtual world. Besides, all information, like your chat conversations with friends and photo albums, will remain stored in your profile. Twitter and Live Journal (LJ) use similar mechanisms, but you should think twice before deleting your account on Instagram because, according to users’ feedback, the original page cannot be restored, unless it has been removed because of hacking. In such cases, you can resolve this problem by contacting the technical support section.
The social network that parts with its users in the most reluctant manner is VKontakte. In order to get rid of your account permanently and minimize the amount of personal information that can leak on the Internet from its web-site, you have to remove all information from the profile manually, change the settings, and make this page inaccessible to search engines, delete it, and then send a written application to the Vkontakte head office. Under the laws of the Russian Federation, the network user is entitled to immediate service cancellation if he has cleared his profile or completely removed it beforehand on his own.
While scrubbing your personal information from the web, you shouldn’t forget about one more major source of data regarding your person, which is your Google profile. If you are the happy owner of Gmail account, you already have such a profile. Moreover, the system is diligently gathering and saving a huge amount of information about you, such as the history of your search queries in the browser, links to the most visited web-pages, and accounts on aforementioned social networks. Be extra careful while deleting the Google+ account, because if you decide to remove not only an account, but all services that are connected to it as well, you might lose all information on your email, calendar etc. Besides, many applications for modern smart phones will launch and function only if your Google profile is available. So, upon deleting it, you won’t be able to use those apps any more. The same goes for the Google Maps utility, inaccessibility to which makes life in a big city simply unthinkable.
You can read more about how to get rid of your profile on a particular social network here. According to users, the site called the Web 2.0 suicide machine is another safe way to accomplish profile termination. In order to delete the required profile, all you have to do is to log onto this page by following the link on the site. After that, the “machine” will commit a virtual suicide, instead of you.
Let’s assume that you’ve finished deleting your profiles from social networks. That doesn’t mean that from now on you will be insulated from the world, because electronic devices, if used unwisely, can still serve as “beacons” by means of which someone can locate you or obtain private information about you. If you are searching for information on the Internet, using familiar browsers like Opera, Mozilla Firefox, or Internet Explorer, you are leaving a path of digital tracks comprised of queries and viewed web-pages. Moreover, the system saves the IP address of your device and detects your operating system and geographical position.
There are several browsers designed for anonymous web surfing, with Tor Browser being one of the most popular. It can be easily installed on Windows or Mac OS, and the user data will be concealed from the service provider, as well as site administration, by displaying the fictitious IP address of the device and the location where you went online (parameters of the latter can be set manually). The main disadvantage of this browser is its significantly lower data transmission rate, so you’ll have to arm yourself with patience while downloading photos or videos. The program is hiding the tracks left by the user by means of a network of servers. In other words, your query is not traveling from point A to point B in a direct line, but constantly dodges. However, the servers (“nodes”) themselves are vulnerable, and the user can be intercepted in that particular spot. Tor Browser’s advantage is that it allows you to visit web-sites, access to which has been denied on previous occasions (for example, while residing in the Czech Republic, you won’t be able to visit some Russian websites due to regional restrictions).
There are other browser anonymizers, such as DuckDuckGo, StartPage, EpicBrowser, Avant Browser, and The Pirate Browser. Tor Browser is ahead of the pack in anonymity rating, although problems with Flash content can occur in all cases. There are utilities that can turn our browsers into anonymous ones, such as Hide IP Platinum 2, Ad Muncher, and Steganos Internet Anonym Pro. All you have to do is to install and run these applications on your PC.
It is possible to protect your private life more effectively by going online strictly via a secure network, or VPN (Virtual Private Network). Usage of such networks is compulsory in the corporate practice of any company. VPN provides reliable virtual communication based on an unreliable one, which is the Internet. Usually you will have to pay for such service, certainly if it is not a hacker’s creation. For instance, the VPN called hidemyass (www. Hidemyass.com) offers three service packages for periods of one to six months at a price of $ 11.52 and $ 8.33, respectively.
My phone is my enemy
After having taken all precautions regarding the use of a desktop computer or a laptop, don’t forget the electronic “archenemy” that is always with us – the mobile phone. All kinds of messengers and entertaining applications, such as WhatsApp, Skype, Hangouts, and Viber, are a boon to a spy. In order to prevent your mobile phone from being a “beacon”, first of all, you have to turn off the geolocation feature. Informing the general public about your current location via Forsquare or Swarm is absolutely out of the question. Telegram or Cryptocrat are more suitable for communication, because it is still impossible to hack them, unlike the other services. Owners of iPhones will have to take greater precautions. If your iCloud account is activated, along with the synchronization of all available “apples”, then all information from your mobile phone will be automatically transferred to Mac, iPad and other devices. Some users resort to drastic measures. Having purchased the new smart phone, they immediately “hack” its firmware in order to obtain the so-called root rights, and to be able to control all phone settings, including the one that determines which application has to be connected to the Internet. Unfortunately, an incompetent intervention can not only turn the gadget into a useless piece of metal, but make it an easy prey for hackers.
And finally, if the compulsive fear that Big Brother is still watching you has deprived you of sleep, you can use specialized paid services. Aside from regularly erasing all the tracks you’ve left on the Web, they will file a recurring activity report. Such services are DeleteMe, RemoveYourName, and Reputation.com. They can also improve your virtual reputation by increasing the rating of positive information about you. Nevertheless, there is still only one key advice, which is to think twice before posting information on the Internet. Once it gets out there, it will never disappear without a trace.