There is nothing more expensive than something free
I never really cared about online privacy with the logic that I have nothing to hide. So I posted pictures on social media, always allowed location access and signed in using the ever so convenient social login button to every site. Until I read the book The Four by Scott Galloway and watched the Netflix documentary The great hack.
Here are a few points that scared me:
- “With knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself" - Scott Galloway
- Will you let someone see your search history? I.e. What does a google search for Herpes medicine say?
- Even when the apps are not being used, it's still listening to you and targeting you.
- Social media is used as a propaganda weapon to make your enemies support you. The military has mastered this in war zones.
As a mobile app developer that monetize through ads in my apps, I know very well how much you can track. There's a whole industry of ad serving tracking tools that can target you based on location, time, gender, usage and more. Every time you consent to give a layer of permission, that data is being used by someone.
So for 2019, I decided to audit my online privacy and take steps to fix it. Here are the top 5 tools I use:
For the most part, I like it. It's fast but there's the occasional website that doesn't work with Brave. If you're a super chrome app user, this might not be for you. I will say that changing browsers is ALOT of work, I didn't realise how much information I needed to transfer to the new browser,
I've been using Evernote for years to jot down notes, highlight books and save web pages for later reference. I've also been using cloud storage to save my family photos. If these companies decide to close their services, I will lose all my data.
So I bought a Synology NAS and started moving alot of my data to my own server. This sounds great on paper but in practice, managing a Synology NAS is alot of work. Even I had to watch alot of youtube tutorials on how to do this. Migrating data from the cloud to my NAS is non-trivial. Also, the user experience is not nearly as good since Synology has to maintain so many different products. However, there's a satisfying feeling knowing that I completely own my data that's worth the effort.
There's alot you can find out through someone's email account. Receipts of what you subscribe to, places you visit through Uber, places you eat at and who your relatives and friends are. So I decided to set up a free protonmail account. It claims to be super private and because it's located in Switzerland, authorities cannot force them to hand over your data.
I would say the email experience is a 6/10 compared to Gmail. You don't realise how much Gmail offers until you switch to something else.
18.104.22.168 is a free mobile app that gives you FREE VPN developed by the people at Cloudflare. Having a VPN shields your data from being recorded. It's free and I really can't complain about it.
Duck Duck Go
Last but not least, DuckDuckGo search engine. It doesn't keep a history of your searches but once you start using it, you'll start missing some of the small things that Google provides. Like currency translation, flight schedules and language translation. The search results itself also aren't great so I haven't completely moved over.
Update: Feb 1 2020
I've been looking for a whatsapp/telegram replacement. Keybase looks promising. It looks like a promising FREE slack altnernative.