1. Select a discrete app icon.
Survivors of domestic violence live in constant scrutiny. Their abusers typically watch and know of their every move—it’s how they exert power and control. As such, survivors who are trying to find help, be it through a hotline, a shelter or just general information about the type of abuse they’re enduring, know that just searching the Internet for these things can often put them in danger.
There are, however, a few search engines specifically designed with greater privacy in mind, and they don’t rhyme with “shmoogle.” They’re lesser known, which is why many survivors of abuse may not even be aware of these options. Among them, startpage.com, which says they offer “Google search results with complete privacy protection,” and DuckDuckGo, whose motto is “The search engine that doesn’t track you.”
John Shields who works with the business development side of DuckDuckGo, says his company believes “people should have the right to search whatever, whenever they want without fear … DuckDuckGo gives people a place to search anonymously.”
Says Shields, “If anything, these past two years of NSA revelations and continuous data breaches have shown us that our data is not safe from prying eyes. Our solution is simply to not collect it in the first place.”
Additional Safety Features
In addition to DuckDuckGo, Shields says they also recommend two plug-ins for additional safety:
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF’s) HTTPS Everywhere plugin, which will encrypt web site connections where possible
- The EFF’s Privacy Badger plugin, which blocks third-party trackers.
“These simple additions will pretty seamlessly and significantly reduce your digital footprint,” says Shields.
Since DuckDuckGo doesn’t track users’ info, Shields says he wasn’t aware that a survivor demographic was finding his search engine useful. However, DomesticShelters.org shows that a growing number of visitors have found the site via DuckDuckGo. “We're supportive of all Internet users who value and seek out online privacy for any purpose,” says Shields.
One More Very Important Thing
It should also be noted that while DuckDuckGo and startpage.com may prevent auto fill-ins and relevant ad pop-ups during subsequent searches, it’s only part of the safer browsing equation. Your browser history may still give an abuser a trail to follow if he or she is stalking a survivor’s online activity.
Deleting your browser history won’t guarantee complete anonymity—though it’s a good additional step and should be done regardless any time a survivor uses a home or shared computer. However, those tech savvy enough may still find browser history stored in other places on most computers.
The only way a user can visit sites without leaving a trail is to browse the web in a private window, which different browsers call different things. In Chrome, this would be a “New Incognito Window.” In Firefox, one would search under a “New Private Window” and in Internet Explorer, one would look for “InPrivate Browsing,” or Ctrl+Shift+P. For Safari it is simply referred to as private browsing.
Coupling private browser settings with search engines like DuckDuckGo and startpage.com is a smart combination to consider the next time you’re on a computer. The same should be said for smartphones and tablets.
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