5 Tools & Techniques to Take Back Your Online Security & Privacy

The tools and techniques described below are a small sample of things you can proactively do to reduce how much you are tracked online. I’ve found these measures to strike the right balance of privacy and convenience.

1 - Get a VPN

Ads for VPNs are everywhere and for good reason. They’re exceptionally useful for everything from hiding your location/IP from prying eyes to offering ad blocking and website safety warnings.

Ultimately, a VPN establishes a secure connection to the VPN provider’s server and routes all your internet traffic through there. In the section about PiHole (step 2), you’ll see how different your traffic looks on your local network when a VPN is turned on vs. not.

My personal favourite is Surfshark — it’s exceptionally affordable and they offer an “IP rotation” feature which will automatically change your IP address every 10 minutes without interrupting your connection. There are plenty of other options too — take a look at this CNET article for more providers.

I don’t often enable my VPN when on my home or office network but when using cell data or (even worse) public (e.g. Starbucks!) WiFi, switching on your VPN is a big step towards keeping yourself more secure online.

Surfshark Desktop app for Mac

Pro tip: Use your Surfshark VPN to switch your location to the UK or other EU country when booking a rental car — you’ll often find that all those pesky extra fees (taxes, additional driver, insurance scams etc) are already built in to the price!

2 - Setup a PiHole on your Home Network

A PiHole is a Raspberry Pi (powerful yet affordable computer) that you run on your local network to block ads, tracking sites and so much more. It works by acting as the DNS server for your home network so it blocks known tracking URLs before they even make it to your browser.

If setup properly (as a DNS server), the PiHole will take effect on all devices on your network automatically so you’ll be blocking tracking data on everything from your smart TV to your Alexa Dot.

I recommend reading through this excellent article to get yourself started. Then add some quality of life configurations with PiHole Updatelists — below is the configuration I use: it seems to strike the right balance between privacy protection and convenience (i.e. not breaking too many websites!)

Once you have everything setup, take a look at your Query Log and notice how many of your smart devices are now blocked from sending various metrics back home:

Amazon Alexa Echo being blocked

You can also see this impact by opening up your browser console (Cmd + Option + I on a Mac) and noting all the tracking information being blocked (even on this page!)

Blocked tracking information on Medium article

Note: If you’re running a VPN (as described in step 1), you won’t see your traffic being logged by PiHole because your entire network connection is already being routed through a remote server. The PiHole query log is a good reminder of just how much data could be being collected about you on an unknown network so use a VPN whenever you’re not at home!

Warning: If you are not the sole user of your home network (roommates, spouses, etc.), you might want to setup a “No filter” group that you can add their devices to. Although the PiHole lists references above are generally well-maintained, they can have unintended consequences and cause some disruption — particularly if you’re not aware the a PiHole is operating. Be considerate to other network users!

3 - Switch to Brave Browser with DuckDuckGo

Brave Browser is a privacy-first browser, built on Chromium which means it’s compatible with all Google Chrome plugins!

This makes it a no-brainer in my opinion — you get all the features, functionality and reliability of Google Chrome with none of the tracking. Brave ships with its own default search engine (Brave Search) but you can easily change that to DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused search engine, by visiting brave://settings/search

If you needed more convincing, Brave also offers a “rewards” program if you choose to enable “privacy-conscious ads” — you’ll be compensated for any ads you view or you can donate your earnings to sites you regularly visit, Github projects etc. The earnings are small but they add up quickly through regular internet use ($5-$10 per month if you also use a laptop for work). Alternatively, you can just turn ads off altogether (I use this setting on the mobile version as screen real estate is already at a premium!)

This is the one, simplest step with no technical know-how that anyone can (and should) do with almost no inconvenience (assuming you are viewing this article on Google Chrome!)

4 - “Sign-out” with Google

It’s certainly tempting to short-cut the sign-up process to a new site/service by clicking the appealing “Sign-in with Google” button, rather than storing yet another email-password combination but don’t. Every new site you sign-in with is another stream of data-points you’re making available to help those beautifully targeted search results.

To check which websites you are currently able to log-in to using Google, go to https://myaccount.google.com/permissions and scroll down to “Signing in with Google”.

There are obviously some accounts you may want to keep (such as macOS if you are using that for email/calendar) but try to trim down the list of third-party sites as much as possible.

Many sites will make it easy for you to continue using their service after unlinking your Google account. As an example, Booking.com allowed me to sever the Google account link by simply following the reset password instructions but bear in mind that not all sites will support this process so seamlessly (or at all!). That said, removing reliance on a single account (your Google account) is sensible from both a privacy and security perspective and it’s worth the extra few seconds during account creation.

5 - Host your own “Hide My Email”

I won’t go into too many details here but I recommend checking out my in-depth article on how to host your own version of Apple’s “Hide My Email” service.

Routing all emails and website logins through a domain you have control over (rather than relying on GMail) is a huge step towards keeping your online activities more private and secure.


Whether you take just one step or all five, you should quickly notice that any adverts you do see are far less targeted and creepy: after normalizing personalized adverts for so long, the results might be quite startling.

Have other tips? Put them in the comments section below and I’ll add them to a reader-submitted section periodically.



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