The privacy essentials.

Apps and tricks to keep as much of your privacy as you can while browsing the internet.

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Photo by chris panas on Unsplash

With the advent of the data-hungry economy, there’s not much of ourselves that is not commodified in some way or another. Our apps and phones fight for our attention, while tracking the highs and lows of our daily lives in order to provide us with personalized ads.

Thankfully, we still have a few ways of exercising some kind of control over what we share over to corporation and other overly curious entities and individuals.

Below is a quick recap of all the best practices I have gathered in regards to privacy. As it’s in no way meant to be the most comprehensive guide, feel free to add your own tips and tricks below !

The best practices are classified in two categories : “quick wins” for the easy fixes, and “hardcore” for the most determined of privacy warriors.

General best practices

Disable tracking on your (Windows) computer: if you are using a Windows laptop, remember to plop by the OS’s privacy settings and configure it to your liking, especially by disabling ad tracking and location tracking. This excellent article provides a comprehensive guide to adjust Windows 10 privacy settings.

Keep your computer vaccinated against viruses and other inconveniences: if you hang out in the Internet’s seedy underbelly, you may need to double check what kind of souvenirs you are bringing back from your expeditions : tools like Spybot or Avast can help you clean out the mess.

Whenever it is possible, use a password manager: instead of storing your passwords in a text file or a piece of paper (or systematically using 123456 to remember it), rely on a password manager to store this sensitive data for you, and even recommand you ways of upping your security game.

If you want to delete a file, shred it: just like in real life, simply throwing a file in the recycle bin does not make it unusable by ill-intentioned individuals. If you want a digital file to truly disappear from the face of the Earth, use a file shredder.

Learn how to use Linux-based systems: the Linux ecosystem is a safer and more privacy-conscious alternative to both MacOS and Windows. Learning how to install and use it is highly recommanded. You can try Linux Mint, Ubuntu or Pop!_OS.

Surf freely on the web

Quick wins

Use Firefox instead of Google Chrome: Chrome is one of the more efficient data-harvesting tools used by Google, seeing as for many of us it is the vessel that guides us through our online lives, by default or convenience. Firefox may have been lagging behind in the past few years, but its latest iteration is as speedy and convenient to use as Google’s browser, while including many privacy-conscious features.

Use an adblocker: This one seems a bit obvious, but adblockers (like Ghostery) do more than prevent smutty pop-ups from appearing on your desktop. They also disable trackers, the small bits of code that provide you with a year’s worth of shoe ads whenever you google “Running”. Plus, as an added benefit, some of them block hidden crypto-mining.

Install Facebook Container: Firefox published this browser extension to help you prevent Facebook from tracking you over the web (even when you do not have a Facebook tab opened).

Hardcore

Rely on alternative search engines: whenever possible, avoid the Googles and (Chandler) Bings of the World. Use alternative and privacy-conscious search engines, like Qwant or Duckduckgo.

Rely on a VPN for safe browsing, especially on public networks: If you spend a lot of time relying on coffee shop or hotel Wi-Fi networks, then using a VPN is a must. Virtual Private Networks make the data you transmit harder to track by making it go through an encrypted path. Plus, an added benefit of using a VPN is that you can cheat geo-blocked websites :).

Make Tor your default browser: if you want complete anonymity over the internet, your best bet is Tor, aka The Onion Router. This alternative browser, famous for its connections with the Dark Web, makes web surfing as anonymous as it can get at the price navigation speed. For those interested, techradar published a guide on how to use Tor.

Make your smartphone great again

Quick wins

Delete any unused app: Remember to delete any app you do not use as frequently as you thought you would. As many applications come bundled with a lot of trackers that may collect data even when the app is not running. My personal rule of thumb is to delete any app I have not used in the last two months : if I need again in the future, reinstalling it won’t be that much of a hassle.

(iphone only) Install an adblocker: iPhone users have the possibility of installing an adblocker directly from the Apple app store. These adblockers only work on the phone’s web browser, and do not seem to block ads and trackers on installed apps.

(Android only) Use blockada: Even if there’s no adblocker directly available on the Google Play Store, the open-ended nature of Android make it possible to install one of the best mobile apps ever. Blockada blocks unwanted ads and trackers, on the web browser of your choice and on the apps you use. It can cause some instability in some apps, but having it turned on most of the time is highly recommended.

Hardcore

Root your android phone and avoid Google Services: One way of making your smartphone more private, if you use an Android handset, is to root it and disabling the Google services. Even if the process of rooting your phone is very well explained in tutorials across the web, not using Google Play Services may make your daily life a bit more complicated.

Drop the smartphone and get back in the feature phone game: For privacy or minimalism, you can also completely go cold turkey on candy crush, Instagram, and other smartphone-provided drugs by switching to an old school feature phone. These simpler handsets are coming back into fashion, thanks to retro throwbacks like the Nokia 3310 or more modern renditions like the Light Phone.

Send files and messages privately and securely

Quick wins

Encrypt your files using 7zip before sending them: if you regularly send attachments via email, archiving them in an encrypted archive before sending them may give a little boost in privacy, as it makes the attachment unattainable without the password to the archive (which you need to transmit in a secure manner to make this extra step worth it).

Rely on privacy-conscious email providers: Unlike Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook, privacy-focused email providers like ProtonMail ensure that your email stays confidential.

Prefer Whatsapp to Facebook Messenger: While both of these messaging services are owned by the big F, Whatsapp is the lesser evil, as it still provides end-to-end encryption by default for chats.

Hardcore

Use secure chat apps instead of personal data-hogging services: Taking it one step further, there are now many private and secure chat apps in the market, like Signal. While installing the app isn’t a challenge in itself, making your entourage use it is usually when things get a bit more challenging.

Use a dedicated file transfer service: Instead of sending files via email you can use services like Smash or Firefox Send, which encrypt and share the files without having access to them.

Managing your privacy nowadays is a balancing act between security and convenience, as some services are both ubiquitous and difficult to replace. It remains an essential action to undertake if we want to remain in control of the data we share with third parties.

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