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1 month using TOR : it ain’t easy to protect his privacy

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Those of you who watched Ed Snowden’s movie “Citizen Four” are certainly aware of privacy issues that come with the use of the Internet. Privacy was first a value of the internet and progressively became a myth. The initial libertarian dream has turned into a total control nightmare, not far away from Orwell’s “1984” vision. All your online actions are being tracked.

With that in mind I decided to remove Chrome and Firefox and to use TOR instead. For those who don’t know it, TOR is an open-source project that allows anonymity when surfing online. After 1 month using it, here are the Pro’s and Con’s.

The Pro: you’re really anonymous

This is of course TOR’s promise which is delivered. The TOR system allows you to surf in complete anonymity. Your actual IP address is completely hidden and there’s no way to trace it back. This is great for instance when you want to book plane tickets online, the price of which may increase with each tracked visit. This may also help discovering new type of content that gets filtered out by Google (the infamous “filter bubble” effect rightly described by Eli Pariser in 2011).

Con #1: you’re too anonymous for certain websites

If you combine your use of TOR (totally new IP at each connection) with a no-cookie principle (no third-party cookies at all and first-party cookies Cerased after each session) many websites will assess your connection attempts as suspicious. As a consequence you may be completely denied the access (which happens to me on a website like Immoweb.be and even on Google Images). More often you’ll stumble upon websites asking you to prove you’re not a robot. To be honest, this is a pain in the a**. Entering captcha each time you want to access a webpage is really annoying.

Con #2: 2-step authentication on websites with single-sign-on

On websites where you need to log in, the Single-Sign-On (SSO) system will also assess your connection attempt as suspicious since the IP address is not known to the system. Consequently a 2-step authentication will most often be required. On Linkedin for instance a 6-digit code (One Time Password or “OTP”) is sent by email or by sms. When you’ve been used to hassle-free access to those websites, the new procedure is really annoying and you must be motivated to keep following it.

Con #3: it’s damn slow

One of the big disadvantage of using TOR is that your surfing will become dramatically slower. This is a recurrent complaint of TOR users.

Conclusion: how should you go about using TOR

My recommendation is to use TOR only for a certain number of usages: searching for content, booking tickets, online purchases on non-recurrent websites (hotels, restaurant, flights).

For the websites you most currently use (Gmail, Facebook, Linkedin, …), I don’t think it’s prejudicial to use Firefox (in combination with Qwant for instance).

One possible alternative (if you don’t want to use multiple browsers) is maybe to use TOR but to allow first-party cookies for websites you visit frequently and that require a login. I still have to test this solution though.

If you have other preferred solution, don’t hesitate to post them in the comments.

Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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