5 ways to browse the web privately using Safari on the Apple Mac
Everything you do and everywhere you go on the internet, someone somewhere is tracking your activities. Here’s how to browse privately and stop the trackers from watching what you do online.
There are many reasons for someone wanting to hide their internet activities and it is not always because they are doing things that aren’t legal, like downloading pirated software, music and movies.
Advertisers want to know more about you so that they can target you with adverts you cannot resist. That can be irritating and some sites are just advertising hell. (Not this one thankfully, it has a few ads, but mainly they are out of the way and easily ignored.)
Not all tracking is bad and websites want to know which articles interest people, so they track the views each page gets and how long people spend reading them. This is so they can create more pages that people like to read and less of those that bore them. This type of tracking leads to better websites.
Some people just don’t like the thought of their activities being scrutinised by unknown people and companies on the internet.
Whatever your motivation for wanting to browse the web privately and secretly, there are ways to do this on your Apple Mac.
1 Use a Safari Private Window
Start Safari, go to the File menu and select New Private Window.
This opens a new window and in it, you have no history, no cookies, no internet data. If you have a website that you normally log straight into, such as Facebook, Twitter, and similar places, enter the URL into a Private Window and see what happens.
You won’t be logged in because in a Private Window you are unknown and have no history of ever visiting these sites. You will be prompted to sign up or sign in.
Wherever you go, it is like the first time you have ever visited the site and it knows nothing about you.
As you browse the web, a history will begin to build, but when the Private Window is closed, everything you did is erased - the sites you visited, the cookies they stored, ads tracked and so on. It is all wiped.
2 Increase Safari’s privacy settings
If you don’t want to use a Private Window for browsing, you can increase the privacy in a normal Safari browsing window.
Go to the Safari menu and select Preferences. Select the Privacy tab. Selecting Always block for cookies and website data stops sites storing anything on your Mac. It will stop some sites from working though.
Try it and see what happens. You might need to relax the setting a little and select Allow from websites I visit.
Websites can access the location information on your Mac (your Mac uses various means to discover where in the world it is being used). It is possible to deny websites access to this information with Deny without prompting.
Once again, try it and see what happens. The sites you visit may work perfectly well with this setting, but if not, select one of the Prompt for each website... settings.
There is a setting called Ask websites not to track me. This sounds really useful, but you need to be aware that Safari is asking sites and not forcing them.
A well designed and managed website will respect that request, but a bad site will simply ignore it. It is still worth enabling this setting.
3 Remove extensions
Extensions can be added to Safari to add extra features, such as buttons for sharing content, storing notes, checking your spelling and grammar, and so on.
These extensions have access to the websites you visit and the content on the pages. An extension could share this information with its developer, which raises privacy issues.
Go to Safari, Preferences, Extensions. If there are extensions you can live without (none are really necessary), select them and uninstall them.
(Can't remember all your internet passwords? Read how Avast Passwords for Mac can help.)
4 Use a VPN
A VPN or Virtual Private Network is a way of encrypting internet traffic so that no-one can spy on you. A secure encrypted connection is made between the Mac and the VPN provider, so whatever websites you visit and whatever content you view cannot be seen by anyone else.
This is perfect for public wi-fi hotspots where you don’t know whether the person on the next table at the cafe is a hacker trying to spy on your activities. It also prevents the wi-fi hotspot owner from knowing what you are accessing.
It can be used to access websites that are normally blocked. Pinterest, for example, is one of the most popular websites in the world, but it is blocked at some public wi-fi hotspots. Using a VPN would unblock it.
A VPN does not make you anonymous on the internet, but it does add a great deal of privacy and security. It severely limits what information know about you and it prevents eavesdropping on your activities by those around you.
There are many VP services and a Google or Bing search will list lots of them. Avira Phantom VPN is free if you don’t need much data. You get 1GB of internet data each month after registering for free. It’ll be gone in a day if you watch online video, so limit your activities to those that use less data.
5 Use a proxy server
A proxy server acts as an intermediary when you want to access a website. Let’s say you want to access rawinfopages.com. Safari would send the URL request to the proxy server, that would request the web page, and the page page would be passed back to you by the proxy server.
It is the proxy server that gets the web page from the web server, so the website sees only the proxy server and not your Mac.
It’s like asking your friend Bob to buy some milk for you. Bob buys the milk from a shop and gives it to you. The shop only sees Bob and doesn’t know the milk is really for you. A proxy server therefore adds a degree of privacy, fetching web pages and passing them on to you.
There are free and paid proxy servers. The free ones tend to be over-subscribed and abused by the public. All your web traffic goes through the proxy server, so it is best to use a company that can be trusted. Don’t shop, bank or do similar things on a free proxy.
A search for proxy servers at Google or Bing will produce lots of results. Some sites maintain lists of free proxies, but paying will provide you with a better service.
With a free proxy server, you go to the website, such as JustUnblockIt.com and enter the URL of the website you want to visit.