Choose Privacy: Tools and Extensions for Securing Your Personal Data
When we buy a new tech product, we often return to what we’re used to. As we continue to learn more about the societies that surveillance capitalism creates it’s time to think about upgrading to privacy-focused products.
Data leaks happen. Unfortunately, they aren’t stopping anytime soon. There is nothing you can do to prevent them. It is up to the company to be responsible for our data by having the best security measures possible because our data is that important. We shouldn’t stop using technology out of fear that our personal information may get leaked. Taking steps to protect your privacy and security online is not difficult. Many of the tools below take less than five minutes each to download and set up. Explore them and think about integrating them into your digital life.
If you want to keep others from reading what is private to you, encryption is necessary. Encryption is becoming the default for communication, but we’re not there yet. Until we are, use these apps to increase your online privacy and security and protest the surveillance economy.
Use a browser focused on your privacy.
“The only legitimate reason for a product to collect data is to make sure it has the information it needs to function,” said Andy Yen, the CEO of ProtonMail (a privacy-focused email platform featured later on) Andy Yen. This is not the case for the world’s most popular web browser, Google Chrome. Chrome can connect your information to individual identifiers. So even though they say your data is anonymous, it can still get linked to you. While Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s Edge also collect data it’s not linked to the individual. Some trackers, like Facebook’s, follow you even if you’re logged out of the platform or don’t have an account.
Switching browsers can be one of the quickest and simplest ways that we can start to regain our privacy.
One of the more popular privacy-focused browsers is Brave. The browser boasts 3x the speed of Chrome thanks to built-in shields that block ads and trackers.
Opera is another good choice and it even has a built-in Virtual Private Network (VPN) function. You’re more secure with this on, but the extra function does seem to slow down the browser (the lag doesn’t happen using a separate VPN, like one from the list below).
The data from our searches create a clear digital profile sold for advertising. Google collects data every second from searches happening around the world. The searches link to your computer’s IP address and shape your digital profile. Duck Duck Go is an alternative search engine that does not sell information about your searches. Use an alternate search engine to break out of your filter bubble and escape targeted ads and biased results based on your viewing profile.
Don’t let data vultures read your mail.
You wouldn’t let a stranger or ad company read your mail, would you? Why would it be any different with your email? Google offers its products, like Gmail, for free and gets unfettered access to your mail (yes, they can and they do). If you need to use email, try using a temporary address for registration purposes. Another alternative is ProtonMail. ProtonMail is a Switzerland-based company that offers encrypted email. The paid version offers more inboxes and extra storage. E-mail is turning into an antiquated form of communication anyway.
Use a password manager.
Strong passwords are important. In the Equifax leak of millions of personal information, the investigation found that one of the passwords that kept terabytes of data ‘secure’ was the password ‘admin’.
I used to use the same password for virtually all my online accounts and I know I’m not alone. Some browsers have password managers built-in, like Brave, but the best option is a dedicated password manager.
Bitwarden is free software that assists with password generation, storage, and end-to-end encryption. You also have the option of paying for upgraded password management services for business and family accounts.
Whatever password manager you choose will be a better alternative than reusing weak passwords.
Stop sending unencrypted messages. (Security/Protest)
On the Ted x stage, through a screen on top of a robot, Edward Snowden explained a program called Boundless Informant. As it turns out the NSA has been intercepting our communication. Snowden reveals that “more Americans are being spied on in America than Russians in Russia” through this program. If you use an iPhone, you are already more secure than those sending messages with Android phones. Apple has put an emphasis on security and privacy from the start. Encryption is standard with iMessage, but be wary when the green bubbles pop up. SMS messages are not encrypted. Security should not be limited to Apple iPhone users (and Apple is not perfect — AirDrop is leaking phone numbers and email addresses). There are several options for encrypted communication. When you send a message online or with your phone you assume that it is going to be read by that person and maybe whoever they share it with. That is simply not the case. While it’s true that Google is trying to develop its own alternative to iMessage, there is still a long time to go before it is standard on all devices.
Another day is too long to send another unencrypted message. One of the most secure services is Signal. Signal features end-to-end encryption for messaging, calls, video calls, and voice messaging.
The app is endorsed by Edward Snowden and one of the only messaging apps used by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne in combat zones.
Other options include:
Use a VPN.
The use of a virtual private network is one of the strongest and easiest ways to boost privacy and security. Truly reputable services are not free (Remember, when a product is ‘free’ you are the product). But, this is one of the few tools that is worth paying for.