Privacy-Respecting Search Engines That Don’t Track Your Activity

Chrome calls it Incognito Mode. In Firefox and Safari it’s Private Browsing, while IE labels it InPrivate. It’s easy to be fooled that your activity is fully hidden when such options are enabled in your browser, but in reality the security changes occur on your end (regarding cookies, history, etc.), while data is still collected by the sites you visit.

The most reliable way to stop search engines such as Google, Bing, Facebook and Yahoo from tracking your usage is to stop using their service altogether.

Undoubtedly private search engines that promise better security have other shortcomings. Say goodbye to a personalized experience based on past activity, plus the ability to login and customize settings for future visits. Of course Google will always be ten steps ahead in terms of their search algorithms. But if beefed-up privacy is what you need it’s a small price to pay, and by sticking with a major search engine for usage you don’t mind being public, you’ll get the best of both worlds.

Likely many of these names will be new to you. Maybe it’s about time more users open their minds about search engines and give the small guys a chance.

1. DuckDuckGo

Not tracking their customers’ usage in any way is DuckDuckGo’s calling card. The emerging search engine doesn’t collect your data, store it, or share it. As advertisers are notorious for using data collected from searches, this also means you won’t have to look at annoying ads for the electric lawnmower you just researched two minutes ago.

2. WolframAlpha

It’s a “computational knowledge engine,” and if that means nothing to you, it pulls from a massive database of knowledge and does its best to tailor that data based on your search. So rather than asking Web pages for the answers, WolframAlpha is a solution in itself. No, it won’t replace a traditional search engine for everything, but it sure beats Encyclopedia Britannica.

3. Startpage (by Ixquick)

Startpage trumpets itself as “the world’s most private search engine.” It takes advantage of Google search technology while tossing out the company’s privacy rulebook. There is also a proxy feature to increase anonymity even more; by enabling it none of the sites you visit can see your IP.

4. Yippy

With Yippy you can filter out results that aren’t relevant to your interests by selecting categories, using tag clouds, and sources. This may be a breath of fresh air for users that are tired of sites attempting to guess what you want all the time rather than just asking.

Yippy doesn’t track searches and doesn’t display customized ads either.

5. Hulbee

Grossbay A. G., the Swiss-based software company behind Hulbee, utilizes a data cloud for a more intuitive connection to information and for quicker load times. It manages to provide intelligent, relevant results without probing its users.

By encrypting searches Hulbee protects you against third party attacks and data leaks. It doesn’t leave any tracks when you search on the site: topics, IP addresses and personal information are not stored. And for those put off by the gutter of the Web that can sometimes show its face at inappropriate times, it’s family friendly too.

6. Disconnect Search

With a little help from DuckDuckGo, plus the giants at Bing and Yahoo, Disconnect Search piggybacks on great existing search technology but doesn’t record your IP or your history.

For higher levels of security Pro (blocks trackers and malware) and Premium (masks location, IP with a VPN) services are also offered.

7. Lukol

This one is simple: it’s Google, but with a proxy server added to the chain to hide your identity. Lukol keeps tabs on fraudsters and shady sites, safeguarding you from attacks you might not see coming.

Visual learners will appreciate that results have images pulled from corresponding Web pages next to links.

8. MetaGer

Privacy comes naturally to this German outfit; every search is completed with respect for your privacy. They don’t save your IP, and the fingerprint of your browser. Cookies aren’t used nor are tracking pixels. Data is encrypted though the HTTPS protocol so your ISP can’t see your searches either.

Options to browse with a proxy or through the anonymous TOR network are available to those willing to put in the effort.

Photo: jpbr

Protect Browsing History After Congress Internet Privacy Bill: Time to VPN?

security-breach

The US House of Representatives have passed privacy rules that give your ISP the right to access and even sell the data generated when you use the internet.

This has created a shockwave among Web users, with searches about VPN services that allow you to hide your IP and protect online privacy spiking up as a result.

In the past it was sufficient for ISPs and corporations to know just the basics about you: name, address, phone number, possibly your age. Now they want to peer inside your head and get to know what makes to tick. By studying your opinions, interests, and shopping habits they’ll know exactly what products and services to entice you with, just when you want it most.

And that’s a frightening breach of trust for most of us.

For most the internet is a sanctuary of anonymous inquiry, where we can ask Google questions we wouldn’t dare ask even to our closest friends.

It’s disturbing to imagine world in which our every embarrassing concern, politically incorrect query, and questionable download is being monitored by a tireless sales bot, looking its next hit on our credit card balance.

Unfortunately, it’s likely a minority that will take the steps to protect themselves. Anyone too preoccupied, uniformed or too cheap will be separated from an asset of great value to marketers. Keep in mind this isn’t just an invasion of your privacy, it’s a way of taking more from the consumer without directly raising the cost of internet access.

VPN to the Rescue

To understand how a VPN (virtual private network) can protect your online privacy, we need to examine how it works. A VPN connects users together through a private network so these individuals can access a public network (usually the internet) through it. By making this “virtual” connection routed through the internet from the VPN provider’s private network, the data is encrypted. Any parties intercepting this data won’t be able to read it.

Another advantage is a VPN will hide your IP address: the code used to identify your personal machine and where you are in the world. An ISP of course has all your contact information associated with your computer’s IP. Rather than seeing your true IP the ISP will see the IP of the VPN server so they won’t be able to associate that with your identity.

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Is Your Search Engine Trustworthy?

The ever-improving search technologies offered by Google, Bing and others are nothing short of amazing. However with these new policy changes in effect now is a good time to ask yourself if you trust the company behind your favorite search engine.

If not, you may want to use a search engine that doesn’t track user data like DuckDuckGo or Yippy for your incognito searches.

HTTPS: A Partial Solution

Sites that use HTTPS have a security certificate that encrypts the user’s data directly on their server. Web-based companies that value the privacy of their users have made strides to protect it from malicious entities and now to an extent from ISPs.

When you visit a HTTPS enabled site like Twitter for example, your ISP will be able to see you accessed that site, plus the time and duration of the visit. However, the exact pages you accessed while on Twitter will be hidden to the ISP.

That’s not bad but the issue here is that many sites don’t utilize HTTPS, especially small, independently run sites with limited resources.

Although imperfect, you may opt to use a browser plugin like HTTPS Everywhere to beef up security on such sites with no security certificate.

Hit ISPs Back

Some may see the value in voicing their privacy concerns with their ISP directly. Tell them your concerns about privacy issues. Ask about their policies about selling customer data. Then inquire if you can opt out of it.

If the backlash is great enough there will be market pressure for ISPs to rethink how they handle privacy. Congress may have given them the right to sell your data, but that doesn’t mean they can’t opt out too. Better privacy practices may become a selling feature for ISPs that decide to differentiate themselves from other ISPs unwilling to put their customers needs first.

Photo: Blogtrepreneur

How to Hide your IP on Xbox One or 360

xbox-one-settingsThere are plenty of reasons why it’s better to protect your real IP by using a VPN with Xbox Live. First, there are unscrupulous players that use DDOS attacks in games such as Call of Duty to retaliate and get their rivals temporarily disconnected from online play. Second, you’ll be able to take advantage of services available outside your country, such as the U.S. version of Netflix if you live in Canada, for example. Lastly, since games are released in different time zones or on different dates in other countries, you may be able to access new games sooner than your neighbors.

Unlike the PS4 you cannot setup use a VPN server directly in Xbox One system software. Instead you’ll need to share your computer’s VPN with your Xbox One or centralize your VPN tunnel with a router so your home computer, devices, and Xbox all pass through it.

That being said, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of hiding your IP address on Xbox One or 360.

First Method: Connecting To A VPN Through A Router

Step 1

You’ll need to use an Ethernet cable to connect your modem to your router using the WAN port.

Step 2

Next, open the router’s control panel. This is usually accessible via a Web browser. Enter the IP address associated with your router in the address bar of the browser. If you don’t know how to find the right IP, follow this tutorial for Windows.

The next steps will vary depending on the manufacturer/model of your router and the VPN company.

Step 3

Click on the ‘Basic Setup’ / ‘Network’ / ‘Basic’ tab in your router control panel or wherever you can find the options relating to WAN configuration or Internet connection.

Step 4

Enter the information provided by the VPN provider (username, password, gateway, subnet mask, etc.).

Step 5

Choose the protocol recommended by the VPN provider to work with their services (ex. PPTP w/ DD-WRT, OpenVPN w/ DD-WRT).

Step 6

Adjust the DCHP settings depending on the requirements of the VPN service.

Step 7

Click ‘Save’ / ‘Apply Settings’ / ‘Connect’ and you’re finished!

Second Method: Using a PC for VPN Setup

Another option is to use your Windows-based PC to share the VPN connection with your Xbox One or 360. This is divided into two parts: 1) Windows settings and 2) Xbox settings.

Windows Settings: Setting up the VPN

Step 1

In Windows, go to Control Panel > ‘Network and Sharing Center’

Step 2

After you click on ‘Setup a New Connection or Network,’ a wizard will appear in a new window.

Step 3

Select ‘Connect to a Workplace’ then click ‘Next.’

Step 4

When the wizard asks you how you’d like to connect, choose ‘Use my Internet Connection (VPN).’

Step 5

Enter the Internet Address and Destination Name given to you by the VPN provider. After you’ve finished filling in the details, click on ‘Next.’

Step 6

Finally, enter the Username and Password provided by the VPN service and click ‘Connect’.

Now that you’ve completed the settings on the PC side, you’re ready to fire up your Xbox One or 360 and proceed with the next part.

Xbox Settings: Connecting to the VPN

Step 1

Press the ‘LIVE’ button on your Xbox One or 360 controller.

Step 2

Go to the ‘Settings’ tab and choose ‘System Settings.’

Step 3

Now that you’re in the ‘System Settings’ menu, you can select ‘Network Settings.’

Step 4

Xbox One or 360 will now automatically detect the Wi-Fi connections that are available. Choose the appropriate network from the list.

Step 5

Now, enter the WPA key. It can be found printed on sticker on the underside of your router.

Step 6

Finally, the Xbox system software will prompt you to ‘Test Connection.’ Do this to ensure you’re ready to use the VPN with your favorite games!

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How to Hide your IP Address on PS4

xmb-settings

There are numerous reasons to use a VPN to change your IP on PS4. You might do this to access Netflix movies available in a country outside your own, reduce lag when gaming online, access game releases available in different countries, or protect yourself from DDOS attacks.

Step 1

From the main menu in XMB, go to Settings.

Step 2

Move down through the options and select Network.

Step 3

From the Network screen, select the first option, Connect to the Internet.

Step 4

XMB will now ask if you’re using a Wi-Fi or LAN connection to access the Internet with your PS4. Select whichever one is appropriate for your situation.

Step 5

XMB will ask how you want to set up your Internet connection. Choose Custom.

Step 6 (Wi-Fi only)

If you’re using a Wi-Fi connection you’ll have to select the name of the network from the next menu.

Once that is done, enter the password for that network.

Step 7

It will ask for your DHCP Host Name. Select Do Not Specify.

Step 8

For DNS Settings, choose Automatic.

Step 9

For your MTU Settings, do the same and select Automatic.

Step 10

Now we’ve reached the important part! For the Proxy Server, choose Use.

Step 11

Enter the IP Address of your VPN server as well as the Port Number below that.

If you don’t have one or know what this is, scroll to the very bottom of this tutorial.

Step 12

Now that you’ve entered the specific info for your VPN, XMB ask you to save your setting on the next screen.

Next, you’ll be prompted to test your Internet connection. Now you’ll be certain if the VPN is up and working properly.

That’s it!

Please note that you’ll need to use a VPN service or to setup your own private proxy server to make this work and successfully hide your IP address.

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How to Hide your IP in Transmission

transmission-02-535x535The latest versions of Transmission have no built-in proxy features. It was removed after version 2.11.

The software developer took it out citing the reason: “proxy support was not very good – we only support tracker proxies, not peer ones.”

You can still easily hide your IP and identity in Transmission with a VPN such as Private Internet Access by using the VPN client software they bundle with the service.

Once the client software is connected to the VPN all your online activity will be made anonymous by the VPN service, whether you use Transmission to download torrents on your Mac or simply for browsing the web.

Downloaders that prefer to use a proxy server either have to stick with Transmission 2.11 despite its limitations, or switch to alternative software like Vuze.

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How to Hide your IP Address in Vuze

The BitTorrent application once known as Azureus continues to be a popular choice as many are attracted by its slick interface and wealth of features.

Follow the directions below to hide your real IP from other BitTorrent users as well as companies that use advanced tracking software to spy on users who download certain torrents.

Step 1

From the top menu go to Tools > Options

Step 2

Make sure “Mode” is selected at the left pane inside the Options window.

Under “User Proficiency” click on the radio button marked “Advanced.” This will give you access to proxy options not available when the lower levels of user proficiency are enabled.

vuze-proxy1

Step 3

Click on the small arrow next to “Connection” in the left pane. This item will expand to reveal subsections. Click on “Proxy” (listed under “Connection”).

vuze-proxy2

In the main part of the window under the label “Tracker Communications” click on the checkbox next to “Enable proxying of tracker communications (restart required).”

Further below under “Peer Communications” click on the checkbox next to “Enable proxying of peer communications (outgoing connections only) (restart required).”

Don’t restart yet; do that later after you’ve entered the required values in the Proxy window.

Step 4

To continue with this step you’ll need to determine which proxy host you’d like to use.

For testing purposes I used a SOCKS v5 host I found on socks-proxy.net, and while this is adequate for very small files the speeds are much slower than paid services.

If you plan on hiding your IP in Vuze on a regular basis and are interested in larger files like most people (movies, music, software), you’ll need to sign up with a VPN service.

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Enter the information provided by a site that lists proxy host IPs (and ports). As a sample to give you a good idea of what you need to enter, I’ve entered the required fields using a publicly available host from Russia in the screenshot.

vuze-proxy2

Most users will want to want to “use the same proxy settings for tracker and peer communications proxy”, so make sure this is checked under “Peer Communications.”

After you’d entered the required info remember to click on the “Save” button in the lower left of the window.

Step 5

Now you can safely restart the software.

Go to File > Restart Vuze (just above Exit).

All Done

That’s it! You’re now ready to start downloading. Load in a torrent and see what kind of speeds you’re able to get.

How to Stop Throttling by your ISP (Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, etc.)

snail-speedIn February Ars Technica reported that video streaming performance had been dropping dramatically for the past three to four months on Verizon and Comcast.

Since Netflix, YouTube and Hulu are notorious for sucking up bandwidth, ISPs are getting more aggressive with throttling video streaming. Actions that were taken to slow down peer-to-peer file sharing via bittorrent are now being taken on video sites and services.

The only ISP that had improved video streaming speeds during this stretch of time was Google Fiber. The other major ISPs have revealed their lacking infrastructure and stingy nature once again, and it’s unlikely the trend will reverse itself anytime soon.

The best analogy is that of a traffic jam. Too many users want high quality video in the same locations, causing congestion and therefore slower speeds.

So if you want video streaming without pauses and munching on popcorn while waiting for the buffer bar to grow at a snail’s pace, you’ll need to think differently than your neighbors.

The VPN Solution

Luckily there is a way around the issue by using a virtual private network (VPN).

Ars Technica did a follow-up piece explaining how VPNs can allow savvy users to find better roads to travel on:

[…] a VPN may route your traffic away from congested servers and links that would normally serve up video to your home. Netflix and YouTube store video caches in many locations, and data can take multiple paths to its final destination.

“Imagine you’re in the US and that you are on a carrier that existed in multiple states and time zones, you can VPN to the West Coast from the East Coast and end up getting the idle servers that are there, just sitting and waiting for people to get out of school and off work and so on,” Bowman said.

So now you know why a VPN works, let’s look at what you’ll need to consider when choosing a VPN, shall we?

Using a VPN for this purpose is the taking a toll road. It’s the best route, free of annoying congestion, but you also need to pay to play.

Due to the demanding requirements of video streaming not just any VPN will do, or more specifically any free solution will inevitably lead to frustrating, slow performance, defeating the purpose of using a VPN in the first place.

Currently my three favorite high-performance VPNs for video streaming are the following:

At $10 or less per month, it’s well worth it if you rely on Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and other streaming services as main sources of entertainment. It sure beats paying for cable TV.

 

Photo: Rovanato

How to Unblock U.S. Only Videos (YouTube, Hulu, MTV, South Park, etc.)

Being denied access to a video merely due to living outside the U.S. may be one the most annoying problems to plague the web.

sorry-canada

Luckily there are a variety of browser plugins, software and services you can use to overcome the barrier.

The catch is that the free options aren’t always quick enough to stream high quality video without hiccups. Virtual private network (VPN) services that ensure flawless video playback consistently aren’t free. A VPN may or may not be worth it depending on how much U.S. only sites and content you crave.

Plugins

If you just plan to watch the occasional U.S. only video and aren’t picky about performance, start with a browser plugin. Just keep in mind you’ll be entering captcha codes to prove you’re human on sites like YouTube, which can get tiresome, because the proxy server IPs are overused.

There are two popular plugins to consider: ProxTube and ProxMate. They work with Chrome and Firefox. These work by hiding your true IP and replacing it with an IP associated with the country the video is allowed in.

VPNs

If you’re planning on watching a fair bit of video on YouTube or Hulu and want the best user experience free of technical issues and shoddy streaming, VPNs are the way to go.

With a VPN you download desktop software, which manages connecting to proxy servers available with the plan you go with.

Generally I recommend these three VPN services:

VyperVPN is super quick and the best overall VPN. The monthly rate is a good value, but you won’t save as much as the others if you pay annually. A three-day free trial is offered so you can test drive the service before committing to a plan. Read my full VyperVPN review here.

PureVPN and StrongVPN get the job done just fine and are dirt cheap if you pay annually ($50 or $55 per year).

Closing Remarks

Hopefully content providers will get more lax about restricting video from being viewed outside the U.S. as time moves ahead. Some of these copyright laws strike me as antiquated and arbitrary. Until then enjoy all the video you can handle with the use of a handy plugin or VPN.

VyprVPN by Golden Frog VPN Review

Looking for a slick, easy way to hide your IP without sacrificing speed? Golden Frog’s VyprVPN may be what you’ve been seeking.

Software

vyprvpn-chicagoVyprVPN is available for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. This review focuses on the Windows version and was tested using their Premier plan.

The Microsoft .NET 4.5 portion of the VyprVPN installer package stalled on me, but after getting through this small hiccup any initial doubts I had were eliminated.

VyprVPN desktop software is wonderfully designed, intuitive to use, and it just works. It appears in a tall, thin window, like a desktop widget, freeing most of your screen real estate for Web browsing.

Click the big “connect” button and you’ll be connected to the closest server available without any hassle. Every time you do, you are given a new IP to hide your true IP address.

Props to Golden Frog for keeping things simple for the average user by making the most used basic functions prominent. Connection speed bar graph, VyprVPN IP address, time connected, protocol and encryption details, NAT firewall, etc. are cleanly displayed.

server-locationsUnder the hood it offers a great level of settings under the options menu reserved for power users. One notable aspect is the encryption options, which include Chameleon (256 bit), OpenVPN (256 bit or 160 bit), L2TP/IPsec (256 bit) and PPTP (128 bit).

Chameleon encryption is unique to VyprVPN and works by masking VPN traffic so the connection isn’t blocked or throttled.

Speed

Naturally the closer the VPN speed is to that of your vanilla internet connection, the better the VPN’s performance.

To start I tested my ISP speed (cable broadband) in order to compare the results to the performance while connected to VyprVPN servers.

Base ISP speed results:

no-vpn

VyprVPN automatically makes the default server the one with the fastest ping time. If you want to assume an IP associated with a specific country or U.S. state, you can choose from a list of 45 major markets around the world.

The two closest servers to me are Toronto and Chicago.

Toronto server, VPN results:

toronto-server

Chicago server, VPN results:

chicago-server

Speeds were so close to my connection without a VPN I couldn’t tell the difference. Big files were downloaded with ease and HD video streamed without hiccups.

VyprVPN would be a good choice indeed for people outside of the U.S. that want access to the U.S. version of Netflix, which is one of the most demanding uses of a VPN.

Price

VyprVPN has a competitive monthly fee, especially when you consider the high quality of the service. Three plans are offered depending on your needs. The main difference is the number of simultaneous connections they allow. With basic you get one connection, with pro you get two, and premier allows three.

vyprvpn-plans

  • Basic: $6.67/month annually or $9.99 monthly
  • Pro: $8.33/month annually or $14.99 monthly
  • Premier: $10.00/month annually or $19.99 monthly

Learn more about the plans here on Golden Frog’s official site.

Conclusion

VyprVPN is polished, easy to use and the performance is top notch. I’m docking a bit off the score for the installation woes but keep in mind this could be the fault of Microsoft and not Golden Frog.

Highly recommended!

4.5/5

Click here to get VyprVPN software or learn more!

How to Hide your IP on Android

As smartphone hardware becomes increasingly powerful, Google is equipping Android with powerful features once only found on the desktop. Hiding your IP with a VPN is a perfect example.

Although there are apps that can hide your IP for Android, you can do the same thing right within the OS. This tutorial teaches you how to utilize a VPN service to mask your IP with no additional software.

Please note that this tutorial was written using the stock version of KitKat on a Nexus phone. Android may be a bit different on your device.

Step 1

Using a VPN has become the standard solution for anonymous browsing, making it next to impossible to trace activity back to your true IP.

Before you get started with exploring the settings in Android you’ll need to choose a VPN service.

I used a free provider called JustFreeVPN for testing purposes. Please note that while free services can get the job done paid options are much faster and offer superior security. Most providers offer plans under $10/month or less if you pay for the full year.

Recommended services:

Step 2

Locate “Settings” either by browsing your apps or by swiping the top menu, tapping on the user icon on the top right, then touching the cog icon.

android-vpn-settings

Step 3

Now that the “Settings” menu has appeared, tap on “More…” directly below “Data usage.”

android-vpn-1

Step 4

Tap “VPN” just below “Tethering & portable hotspot.”

android-vpn-2

Step 5

In “VPN” options screen, touch the “+” icon to the right.

Step 6

A box labeled ”Edit VPN profile” will appear. Give the VPN service you plan to use a name, make sure “PPTP” is selected, and then enter the server address you were provided in step 1. Check the box next to “PPP encryption (MPPE)” then tap “Save.”

android-vpn-3

Step 7

Tap the VPN entry that has been created. A new box will appear allowing you to enter the username and password you got in step 1. Check the box so your info is saved for next time.

android-vpn-4

Step 8

Confirm that you have successfully connected to the VPN. It should say “Connected” directly below the name you gave the server in the beginning. A tiny key icon will also appear at the top left. For additional info about the connection or to disconnect, tap the entry again.

android-vpn-5

All Done

Congrats! Your IP is now hidden on Android!