Google is the largest search engine on both desktops and smartphones, with almost 70% of the market, and has become one of the most helpful ways for people to conduct research, shop online, social media, and much more. The unfortunate side effect of searching for everything through Google is that Google gathers that information and stores it to make searching easier in the future. While that may seem convenient, it also means your information is stored in one spot, making your information easily accessible by cyber criminals. There are ways to delete your search information, but by default, Google gathers a large amount of information about the things you look up, but they have also provided a new security feature that can help.
Protect your Search History
Google has recently released a new security feature to better protect your search history - you can now add a password to access that history. This adds an extra layer of security and provides peace of mind that no one can gain access to your history – at least, not without a password. To add a password, you will first navigate to your Activity settings, located at myactivity.google.com. Next, locate the Activity Controls option on the left-hand side. On the next page, go to Web and App Activity and select Manage Activity at the bottom of that section. Next, click on Manage my Activity Verification. On this page, you can add a password or set up two-factor authentication in order to view your search history. You can also manage how much data Google saves on you and view what data they have collected in the Activity settings.
Web & App Activity
The Web & App Activity control is one of Google's most powerful privacy settings, and it controls more than you would expect. If you leave this on by default, Google takes that as consent to capture everything from your Google searches, YouTube history, to online purchases to better advertise to you and your interests. If you decide to turn off this feature, Google warns you that its services may be less personalized, and certain features will be disabled in Maps and Google Assistant.
"That makes for a terrible user experience," says Justin Brookman, director of privacy and technology policy for Consumer Reports. "It's bad practice for them to lump all these settings together and disincentivize protecting your privacy."
For many users such as Brookman, the privacy is worth the trade-off of less personalized services and some features being disabled. It is easy to switch it back on if some features such as Google Maps are no longer working properly.
To turn it off, from any Google website, click the icon in the top right (you'll need to sign in first) > Manage your Google Account > Manage your data & personalization > If Web & App Activity is on, click on it > On the next screen, click the toggle, and hit Pause.
Google has another setting it uses to track you called Location History. In order to stop location tracking, you need to disable Web & App Activity as well.
To turn it off: Go to "Manage your data & personalization" > If Location History is on, click on it > On the next screen, click the toggle, and hit Pause.
These are just a few of the privacy settings you can toggle in an attempt to minimize your online footprint. I strongly suggest reviewing other settings in the Security and Manage Activity settings in order to maximize your privacy on your devices and across the Internet.
DNS over HTTPS
When you visit a website such as google.com, your computer does not know the domain name. It asks the DNS server using the domain/IP address of the website and asks it to point to the correct domain name and then fetches the result. (188.8.131.52 for google.com). Communication between your computer and DNS is typically unencrypted. In order to bring encryption to DNS queries, DNS over HTTPS feature was introduced. Basically, even while fetching the domain name from the DNS server, your queries will be encrypted using the HTTPS protocol. DNS over HTTPS is easy to enable and is available for Windows 11 if you've made the switch.
To turn on DNS over HTTPS in Windows 11, navigate to Settings, then Network and Internet. Click on Wi-Fi or Ethernet depending on your connection. Next, select Hardware properties, and click on Edit next to DNS server assignment. In the drop-down menu, choose Manual, then turn on IPv4. Under the preferred and alternative DNS fields, enter your choice of DNS. You can use Google's DNS server, 184.108.40.206, and the alternate 220.127.116.11. There are other popular alternative DNS servers such as Cloudflare or OpenDNS. Then, to turn on DNS over HTTPS, click the drop-down menu and under Preferred DNS encryption, choose the Encrypted only (DNS over HTTPS) option. Then click save, and you are done! Your DNS queries are now encrypted! The process is similar for Windows 10 users. Web surveillance is increasing day by day, and it’s essential for users to guard their privacy, even more so when it’s something as basic as a DNS query.
Vigilant Security Services
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Take the first step to improving your cyber footprint.