Facebook and WhatsApp: Take back control of your digital life and stay safe

Paul Reynolds, CC-BY-SA-2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/sirexkat/1686705977

The average value in 2014 of a Google or Facebook account are each $223 and $20.75. You are a prime commodity in the “data is the new oil” age. Be prepared that, whatever you share, can and will be used by corporations for their benefit and advancement.

Frankly, it all started a while back with that uneasy, ungrounded feeling that internet services are trying to take over more and more of our lives. Facebook has the “Wall” where they stipulate what we see. Or Google has its Search Rank or optimized inbox.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a first adopter of Facebook , and the idea and practice of connecting you to your friends, family and close ones, no matter where they are, is very powerful and enticing.

But Facebook got more complicated, started this whole app ecosystem, payment possibilities and many more things. To what purpose?

To lure you to spend as much time on Facebook as possible. To transform, filter and reduce the breadth and depth of the internet to the Facebook Wall. To control what you are seeing.

In the same direction went this whole facebook.com mail plague… Pushing you to the point where you will use the Facebook ecosystem even for mails. Striving to become the middle-man in all private conversations.

All of the above is already scary, but after reading the really well explained blog article from Salim Virani, that was my tipping point: http://www.salimvirani.com/facebook/

Lately Facebook even started to do Deep Learning on facial recognition inside each uploaded Facebook photo (article by Alex Yumashev). That means, Facebook is learning, how you look like on photos, and knows, where you are on photos, even if you never have been tagged on those photos.

To make it even worse, the US. are currently thinking about to require your social media accounts password to “check” you, before entering the country! What a unreasonable violation of my privacy! Through this action I finally understood thoroughly, that I can’t have “privacy” on platforms like Facebook. So my initial approach was to handle Facebook like a website. Everything I post there, is public. And for private conversations/file exchange/sensitive data, I will have to use tools that are sufficiently secure to provide me the privacy I require.

Even if you don’t have a mail handle or the cell number, solutions like keybase.io can provide secure communications and file exchange, without knowing nothing more than a avatar name or handle. Quite powerful, in my opinion.

I, for myself, have decided too, to delete my Facebook account. However, everybody has to decide for himself. If you want to keep yours, that’s also OK. Just be aware about the implications and make an informed decision.

In end, i want to be back in charge of my own conversations and thoughts, without the fear that its being steered or controlled. And i believe, this is your interest as well. Privacy is peace of mind…


Addendum (April 2nd, 2017)

Addendum (May 2nd, 2017)

  • https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/01/facebook-advertising-data-insecure-teens

Addendum (September 23rd, 2017)

  • https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/19/facebooks-war-on-free-will

Delete Facebook

Stephen Edgar, CC-BY-SA-2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/netweb/4656088682

I am a strong believer, that the decisions you make as a consumer, are shaping the services and companies you consume from. If you do not consent with the actions of such a company: Don’t buy/consume from them. In a bit extreme way, you are supporting the policies from those companies yourself with the consumption.

Before deleting, I wanted to explain in and on Facebook why I am leaving. Surely, it will be gone when the account is deleted, but the people that matter, will notice.

I am retaining some social network connections on Twitter which is more like a blog and is public anyway. I have no private conversations on Twitter, it’s intended to be public. For writing and publishing articles i can recommend Medium (i do write my epitaph here, after all) or your own blog.

When you are ready, download a backup, detach your apps and so on. If you like, you can use a guide from the internet, for example: http://deletefacebook.com/

‘And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that. All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ — Sir John Dalberg-Acton.

Well done!

Delete WhatsApp

One surprising outcome of deleting Facebook was for me as well, that there is no real need for an alternative. In my experience too, you have more visits and phone calls and most conversations do not happen on Facebook these days. Instead we mostly use messengers.

That’s the main reason Facebook bought WhatsApp, even though they have Facebook Messenger: They want to stay the prime method of contact for all conversations.

The good news are, that there are many good alternatives to WhatsApp, maybe even better. The only difference for most users is: Who is using these alternatives? Hence it’s important to get as many peers on those alternative networks. If you only want to choose one, choose Signal.

The following, i can recommend and most are free as well:

  • Signal: OpenSource, Free, Security Audited, Android, iOS, Chrome App, Chat, Video, Decent Crypto
  • Wire Messenger: Closed Source, Free, Security Audited, Android, iOS, Chat, Video, Good Crypto
  • Telegram: Closed Source MProto Protocol, Security Audited, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, native Desktop Apps, optional end-to-end encryption, Good Crypto
  • Threema: Closed Source, Costs 2,99 €, Android, iOS, Windows Phone
  • Wickr: Photo, Video, Voice Messages, Share Files, Decent Crypto


Browse privacy aware

Even when you have deleted your Facebook account and you browse the web, you should take care what footprints you leave behind… The Electronic Frontier Found is a good place to start:

Alternatively give the incredible CLIQZ browser a try. Even Mozilla bought a stake in that company. If you have iOS, you might give Firefox Klar a shot.

Change your mail provider

If you want to go the extra mile (as i did), you can and should change your mail provider to a privacy aware one. There are nowadays real decent providers out there, that can rival GMails UI or Google Docs like apps as well. A personal incomplete list:

Generally, the most important point is that your privacy should be at the core DNA of the company. That they are hosting the data in a “safe” country with good privacy laws. And lastly, that they do a very good job at encryption, meaning where PGP is kind of built in. The term coined by the community is: Zero Knowlege (only your machine has your decrypted data).

An interesting approach has just recently (Jan ’17) been started by Lavabit founder Ladar Levinson: DIME (Dark Internet Mail Environment). Let’s see, how it will be received in the net…

Encrypt your personal files

Feeling uneasy about who could access your files (pictures, documents)? Microsoft(OneDrive), Google(GDrive) and Apple(iCloud) are U.S. companies and are not really encrypting your data correctly. In the current situation a subpoena is enough to access your data, without your consent or approval. Hence, I am too concerned. Basically you have 3 choices:

  1. Leave everything as it is, and accept the risk that 3rd parties could access your files.
  2. Move all your personal files to a private storage like QNAP/Synology at a safe location.
  3. Use your Cloud Storage (OneDrive, Google Drive etc.), but do encrypt them with a tool like Boxcryptor / Cryptomator

Small note: Boxcryptor has also started a secure file sharing service on top of their existing Boxcryptor offering: whisp.ly. Quite handy, when you want to share large swaths of data in a secure and private manner.

Feedback is highly welcome.