There is a small, simple step you can take right now that promises to make your online browsing faster and more private. It’s a choice you can make that doesn’t require any advanced skill. It’s quick. It pertains to an aspect of the internet called the Domain Name System, or DNS, and a new service called 18.104.22.168. In fact, there’s now even a mobile app you can install on your iOS or Android phone to make using the system on your handset really easy.
The DNS is frequently compared to a phone book—it translates the words of a domain name into an IP address, which are the numbers that represent that name. For example, 22.214.171.124 takes you to Google.com. In part because it is easier for people to remember words than strings of numbers like that, the DNS is what figures out what those numbers should be when you type an address into your browser.
But you can choose what DNS service your computer uses. If you don’t, the company that provides your internet—like Verizon or Charter—handles it. Comcast, for example, uses an in-house system. But instead of going with the default setting, you can consider switching to a new DNS service—the aforementioned 126.96.36.199—which is from a network company called Cloudflare.
Switching to it holds two benefits. For one, it’s faster—although speed boosts are measured in milliseconds per load.
Two, it focuses on privacy, with a pledge to wipe their DNS request records every 24 hours. They also say that they will participate in an annual audit by a third party.
The new service “sends a message that privacy doesn’t have to slow things down,” says Frank Wang, a computer science doctoral candidate at MIT who focuses on security and recently switched to 188.8.131.52. With both speed and privacy, “it’s giving you a very compelling reason to use this.”
And in terms of privacy, Shuman Ghosemajumder, the CTO of Shape Security, points out: “Cloudflare has built up a good reputation.”
This isn’t the first offering of its kind: Google also operates a service called the Google Public DNS; one of the IP addresses for that is 184.108.40.206. Like 220.127.116.11, it is free.
Choosing a service like 18.104.22.168 means that the DNS lookups—the websites you visit that the DNS server has to translate into numbers—are handled by Cloudflare, and not your internet service provider, and the logs from that process will be regularly purged. (And data that doesn’t exist for too long is hard to hack—or subpoena). And while your internet company will still know the IP addresses of the websites you peruse, switching to 22.214.171.124 is a symbolic step that puts a key part of the browsing process into the hands of a company that won’t hang onto your information.
Everyday internet users have incentive to keep their browsing as private as possible. “In the broad sense, what we do online reveals a whole lot about us,” says Mitch Stoltz, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Whether those things are good or bad, right or wrong, they are things that we don’t reveal to the world.”
Our browsing can reveal religious or political preferences, for example, or information about our health. “We don’t want our employers knowing every website that we visit when we’re home,” he adds. “We certainly don’t want advertisers or insurance companies or credit bureaus knowing every website that we visit.”
Cloudflare’s new service may not be “a complete solution,” to the privacy issue, but it is a “good step in the right direction,” Stoltz says. “Certainly, it’s a signal that you care about that privacy, and the market is more and more responding to those signals.”
If you’re interested in actively choosing a DNS service, head over to 126.96.36.199 or to Google’s offering to learn how to change the settings on your computer or phone. To use the 188.8.131.52. service on your computer, follow the instructions on their website. To use it on your phone, download either the iOS or Android app.
Note: This article was originally published in April, when 184.108.40.206 was first announced. It has been updated and now includes the news about the 220.127.116.11 mobile app.