How I Started Protecting My Privacy Online & Why You Should, Too

February 17, 2022

In the past years I’ve been seeing more and more proof that privacy is being invaded on a regular basis by big companies and governments, which is extremely unsettling and sadly, not at all surprising. From Facebook putting the information of tens and hundreds of millions of users at risk (multiple times), to the Google Nest alarm system having a secret microphone or the company violating children’s privacy laws, there is an increasing amount of evidence that our online and offline privacy is being breached or even disregarded entirely. If you need a preview of what may happen if it all continues at this rate, check out how China’s social credit system works.

It’s not only Facebook and Google who break policies and rights for their own benefit, but also many other companies that do the same or have agreements in place to get their hands on that carefully collected data. The dangers of these practices are not only that someone may know you like muffins too much, they can also lead to identity theft, being charged more for insurance, being known for having a certain health condition or political view. If you think this sounds insane, click on the links to read more and sit down, maybe have some water nearby and take a deep breath.

Whether you are a regular person going about your life or a rich and famous entrepreneur, privacy is crucial for a healthy and safe life. We all deserve it, just like being able to close the curtains or the bathroom door. However, to get as close as possible to true privacy in today’s technologically controlled world, it can be truly overwhelming and time-consuming, especially if you’re not tech savvy. That is, if you want a job well done, it will require some investment—time and money. In my opinion it is 1000% worth it and it is ultimately an investment in yourself, if you consider the mental, financial and even physical aspects of the safety involved.

private sign

I started to analyze and compile a stack of resources and alternatives to the big brand names everyone is using. Considering it’s a pretty big project for anyone, I too, am still researching and testing some of these options. There are people who created courses that can help you take the necessary steps towards privacy, if that’s what you’re looking for or you are understandably confused and overwhelmed. In this article there are just a few of the products and services out there that I personally think deserve some attention and consideration. I strongly encourage you to do your own research and find out what works best for you individually, on each and all fronts. To remember the main points more easily, I created an acronym – Take a BIG PACE towards privacy now.

B – Belongings

Cover your cameras – an easy and cheap solution to avoid being “LIVE” if someone decides to hack your phone, computer, tablet, TV or anything with a camera. There are quite a few simple, cute or funny options to choose from.

Keep devices, credit cards and contactless car keys safe by using a Faraday-type product that safeguards your information, money and car from being stolen. This also protects your health as it blocks the radiation emitted by your phone and other electronic devices.

Avoid smart watches – yes, you can be hacked using wearable technology too. They could access not only your location but also health data and any other information available on the watch.

Keep work and personal-use hardware separate – don’t check your email or access any other personal account on your work laptop. It’s best to just keep all the work devices completely separate, for yourself and the employer as well. This is a company dedicated to freedom and privacy that makes their own laptops and phones.

I – Internet

Browser – some options you might want to take a look at are Brave, Tor, Firefox and Ungoogled Chromium. Don’t forget about useful features such as ad blocker extensions and private windows.

Search engine – DuckDuckGo, Startpage, Swisscows, searX, Ecosia are some of the options.

VPN is an essential element of online privacy. IVPN and ProtonVPN seem to be two of the better choices.

Needless to say, be careful what websites you visit and in what way, when using YouTube (owned by Google), what back-up and cloud solutions you use, how you do online shopping, and what internet provider you choose (they may also use your data in less desirable ways).

camera surveillance street art

G – Google

Move away, as much as possible, from everything that is Google. Keep in mind that most websites use tools like Google Analytics, so the big G really is everywhere. And since we’re here, try to stay away from Microsoft as well.

Some alternatives:

YouTube – LBRY/Odysee, PeerTube, D.tube

Google Drive – Synqion, Tresorit, Nextcloud

Maps – OpenStreetMap (OSM), OsmAnd, MapHub

Google Calendar – Etar, fruux

Google Docs – Cryptee, Etherpad, CryptPad, LibreOffice

Google Photos –Lychee, Piwigo, PhotoPrism

P – Passwords

Having a password manager is a much better choice than using a word document or storing your passwords in the browser. A few options are Bitwarden, NordPass, 1Password and Dashlane.

Try to use unique and complex passwords (they can be generated by the password manager) for each account you have, instead of following an easy-to-guess pattern or even worse, the same password.

It’s probably better to also use two-factor authentication whenever you have that option. Some authenticator software you could look at – Authy and FreeOTP.

A – Applications (phone and desktop)

You could uninstall all Meta apps (Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp) and others that may be connected (Boomerang from Instagram) and perhaps replace them with privacy focused ones. Also be careful with other social media platforms and their connections to Meta and Google.

Maybe you don’t even need an account for all the apps. You can try to use only what is necessary (if you haven’t opened that app in a year, you probably don’t really need it). Before installing or considering them you can check if they are open-source or trusted.

Some alternatives:

Facebook – Minds, MeWe, diaspora

Instagram – PixelFed

Twitter – Mastodon

Evernote – Cryptee, CryptPad, Joplin, Turtl, Standard Notes

person with a phone in their hands

C – Communication

Considering not even SMS messages are secure or private, let alone the most popular chat apps like FB Messenger and WhatsApp, there is a real need for encrypted and safe apps. A worthy mention is Silence, a spin-off from Signal which replaces SMS and works offline too.

A special level of attention may be worth paying to smart home devices such as Alexa or Google Home.

Some alternatives:

WhatsApp/FB Messenger – Signal (recommended by Edward Snowden), Wire, Telegram (secret chats are safer), Session, Wickr Me (recently bought by Amazon though)

E – Email

Do your best to avoid creating email addresses with Gmail or Outlook for example. There is a number of secure and private email providers – ProtonMail, Mailfence, Tutanota, CTemplar, Private-Mail. For some of them or for more features you will have to pay, but in this case, you get what you pay for and that is privacy and safety, which are actually priceless if you think about it. And we should always be a little careful with most things that are free anyway.

Be skeptical when receiving emails and before clicking on links or calling phone numbers in those emails. There are a few solutions for single-use email addresses, credit card numbers, names and more. The idea behind it is to keep your private information secure and, in case of a breach or leak, nobody should be able to link those details to your true identity.

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Photo: Tim Mossholder via Unsplash; Tobias Tullius via Unsplash; Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

Anca Apetrei
Anca is a vegan veterinarian with additional experience in a few other fields, currently exploring alternative "career" angles and working towards finding or creating her ideal life situation. She is interested in personal development, emotional intelligence, spiritual enlightenment and self-education. She finds joy in dancing, cuddling furry souls, traveling, good music, fitness, meditation, sunny days, soap bubbles and fluffy blankets. You can find her on Twitter @juewu_seeds.

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