Some have asked me directly, and others have mentioned this subject in the forum and I feel it merits a short article. If you are an active or inactive Jehovah’s Witness and you are wanting to do deep research on Watchtower teachings in line with 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, then this has probably crossed your mind at least once if not more times.
Concerns about “spying” or getting caught reading something others would be bothered by is understandable. You want to protect yourself. You may also may worry that a friend or family member might be bothered or stumbled if they found out where you have been on the internet. A person may even worry that an elder or other “bloodhound brother” will sniff them out and discover their online history.
The short answer? Don’t worry, be happy! By taking some simple precautions, and assuming the person is not a master-level professional computer hacker, there is very little chance of being found out. Here are some simple steps to ensure safe surfing and researching online. Some of them you likely know, perhaps a few will be new to you.
• Get a new or separate email address that does not use your name or other personal information in the username. If your name is Jim Smith, then don’t use firstname.lastname@example.org! I suggest you use Gmail as it is slightly more secure IMO than Yahoo and Hotmail, and very full featured. If you want extra security, then a free service such as Hushmail will encrypt every email you send.
• Always use an alias with a non-identifying name when posting a comment on any forums or websites that you know are dubious to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
• Do not use the same password you use for everything when making email or forum accounts. (More on this a little farther down)
• Some are concerned that their geographic location can be discovered. It is true that your unique “IP address” is sent to sites that you visit, but consider this: The ONLY person privy to that information is the actual owner or adminstrator(s) of the site. Visitors cannot gain this information. It is unlikely that the writer for a dissident JW website is interested in turning you in- quite the contrary, they feel the same as you about anonymity. Even if they did though, they would have little time left to do anything else if all they did was track these addresses every day and try and match them up with someone they know from DeMoine, Iowa, Paris, Texas, etc., etc., ad infinitum. If you really are worried about this due to a unique situation, then a proxy server can be used to hide your IP address. Research this using Google and you will learn how to do this if you feel the need. Most will never need to take it that far.
• Use common sense when it comes to not divulging your personal circumstances, location, etc. in any private messages or online comments or posts.
If you follow these simple steps then no one is going to find out who you are or where you have surfed to unless they examine your computer directly. We will mention some precautions on this now:
• Always use a password to login to your computer. This is important to do if at all possible and is easy to setup. Use something like “helloiamlearning” plus your numerical zip code as a login. This is not hard to remember, but is sufficiently long so as to be nearly impossible to crack. Don’t use “mom” or something that you always use or it can easily be guessed or discovered with a utility disc commonly used by hackers. If another person needs access to your computer when you are not using it, then create a separate account for them with their own login information.
If a spouse or other friend wants to know why you are doing this, explain that online identity theft is quite rampant and you read some information recently about protecting your online activities which suggested doing this. However if this would raise too many red flags, see the following bullet point.
• Whenever going to sites you want to keep confidential, put your browser into “stealth mode”. Each web browser has built-in functions for this, or a plugin to allow this. Google Chrome uses an “incognito window” that will not track your surfing history. An alternative to this is to simply erase your browsing history for the evening or day that you used it when you are finished browsing.
• Keep downloaded webpages, articles, PDF books, etc. in a safe place. One way is to put them on a flash drive that you take with you and do not allow others to use and keep in a secure place. Safer still is to email the file to yourself or upload it to Google Docs, then erase the file off the hard drive. Now you have the file stored on your email account (which is backed up), but it resides nowhere else and cannot be accidentally discovered.
The main thing to remember is that we don’t need to be overly anxious if we take a few steps to protect ourselves. (Matthew 10:16) It is crucial that we examine all things to make sure that they are so (Acts 17:11) by doing careful research. If I have missed anything, by all means please let me know and it will be added to this article.
With you in serving Christ,