Here’s a quick overview of some changes I’ve made to my online life due to privacy and security concerns. I feel suddenly annoyed at all the huge corporations combing through every aspect of my online life using AI tech to what ends no one can really predict. It’s likely not good, though.
First off is Google email. I can’t ditch my gmail address as the account is required to operate an android phone. But I can stop using it. I have switched most email activity to protonmail.com, a Swiss firm that focuses on privacy and security. All mail is stored encrypted so there’s no AI sifting through it building a profile of you to sell to advertisers. There is a basic free version, and paid versions with features. Mail comes with a calendar app that is also encrypted.
Google Maps. I still use it. I do keep location off when I don’t need it. The reality is your phone’s ISP logs your location constantly and if that troubles you enough, ditch your phone. I know none of us are busy evading the law, but I’m telling you all this snooping is going to blow up in our faces one day. Snowden was right.
Next is search. I’ve used Google for a long time but now I’ve changed my default search engine in my browser and on my phone to duckduckgo.com. They use a non-nosy model to make money and do not build profiles of searchers or cache your queries. They use the content of the search itself to aim advertisers at you. Fair enough. They have a plugin for Firefox which blocks trackers. Using it about a year and completely satisfied with the service. I highly recommend.
Browser: Firefox. There are more security oriented tools out there, but this is the best balance of privacy and convenience. Stay away from Chrome if privacy is your concern. I don’t use Macs and have nothing to say about Safari. Microsoft as well. I recently got a new laptop and used Edge to download Firefox while it still had Windows 10 on it. Which brings us to:
Operating Systems. I use linux since 2006, exclusively since about 2012. Ubuntu is IMHO the easiest to get going on. Windows’ ubiquity makes it the low hanging fruit for malware, ransomware etcetera, being its market share is gargantuan and a vast number of its users are technically unsophisticated. Though the situation is much better under Win10 and kudos to Microsoft for making things better. Still, I got a brand new Lenovo and I wiped the drive and installed Pop!_OS 21.04, a nice Ubuntu-derived distro I’ve been on for a couple of years. I still don’t recommend linux to anyone. If you like to tinker with computers no one needs to tell you about it. If you don’t then stick to Windows and Mac.
VPN. Virtual Private Network. This is a networking software that routes all your traffic to a remote server and thereby prevents your machine’s IP address from being revealed to any site you visit online. Much can be revealed about you, including your geographic location, from your IP. I’m using ProtonVPN, from the same company as my email service. There are many out there to choose from. VPNs are good if you use public wifi too. Even with the VPN I would not ever log into any critical account (email, bank) when on a coffee shop or hotel wifi. Not safe.
Dropbox. Again, this is a cloud service that plows through all your stored files. It’s expensive too. They forced me to buy about a thousand times more space than I need and their service is cluttered with all sorts of enterprise features not much useful for individuals. Doing lots of photography I need the storage though, and recently switched to MegaSync for about half the money. They have software for all platforms and their web portal and phone app are very clean and sensible. Again, all files are stored encrypted so if you lose your keys your files will be unrecoverable. Like Dropbox, this is a set it and forget it service. Pick a folder in your home folder and tell it to sync every change there to its mirror image in the cloud. If you ever have to set up a new machine, just sync everything back to your drive and like magic, all your stuff is there again. On the cloud side you can archive older files no longer present on your machine and browse and search them through the web interface or the app. I organize my photos by year and everything older than this year is archived, saving disk space at home.
Facebook. I do not now, nor will I ever have, a Facebook account. I abandoned Instagram too, being owned by them. I admit I just have a bad attitude about that company for which I refuse to apologize. Mark Zuckerberg is a cheeky little prick with a frightening amount of power.
So, that’s my privacy/security update. May your days be carefree and your pass phrases be long and complicated.