Most of us use search engines on a daily basis. It’s become automatic. If we don’t know what something is, or hear a word that we can’t define, we go online and type the term into our favorite search engine. And voila, we have our answer in seconds.
But did you ever stop to wonder what happens to your searches? Sure, you can clear your cookies and search history from your browser, but chances are that information has already been recorded somewhere. And when you think about it, that information reveals a lot about you.
Maybe you’re thinking of traveling to Hawaii, or are worried about a medical test result — or a topic that’s even more private — so you turn to the Web for information. Unfortunately, Web browsers do track your search history. And they associate that information with your IP (Internet Protocol) address, which essentially identifies you and your location much as a return address does.
If you value your privacy, then that fact may be a cause for concern.
Two ways to hide your search history
Even if you’re using a private browsing mode, your IP information is still being collected. The only methods for hiding your search history and staying anonymous online are to use a virtual private network (VPN), such as Norton WiFi Privacy, or a special anonymization service, like Tor.
Tor, a shortened form of “The Onion Router,” works by sending your encrypted and re-encrypted data through several random nodes on the Internet, creating a circuitous route. It’s similar to how you might try to throw someone off your trail while playing hide-and-seek in the woods: by taking a hard-to-follow route and erasing your footprints. Because the various nodes only know the IP address from the node before and after, none of the nodes knows the complete pathway the data takes. Plus, each completed pathway is only valid for 10 minutes and then Tor generates new random paths. However, your data is not encrypted at the exit node.
With a VPN, your online activities are anonymized and protected because the VPN masks your IP address and encrypts your data throughout the entire transmission. Instead of sending information directly from your IP address, by using a VPN service the VPN server’s IP address is the one associated with your activity. If your VPN service provider has servers around the world, you could appear to be connecting to the Internet from Berlin when you’re actually in Mumbai.
If privacy and anonymity are important to you, remember that your search history isn’t as private as you might think, but there are options for protecting your information from prying eyes.