Current developments, the push to a technocratic controlled society, urged me to take online privacy and security more serious than I did before. If you don’t like the idea of being watched and listened to through your devices and being manipulated through search engines; read on, there are things that you can do.
The idea is a conscious digital life. Know that the web is not safe by default, big tech does weird stuff with your data and there are consequences to your online habits. Taking back some control might not avert the global course of events, but it does show you are accountable and responsible.
Note to self; I should have done this sooner too.
I am ‘google-less’ for a good while now, and I went with the process pretty straightforward; closed my Google accounts and thus needed to find alternatives to keep my phone working the way I like. My other concerns were an old iMac and laptop (both run Ubuntu OS) and an iPad I rarely use. In my home no smart household devices, Alexa’s etc.
I am comfortable now with this new approach. But it takes some time to adjust, you won’t get it right overnight. You can do it in stages; any ‘hardening’ is better than nothing.
Let’s start with some reading on how your are being tracked:
- Device fingerprinting
- WIFI triangulation, location tracking
- Behavioral Analytics (for marketing purposes)
- ..and not only marketing, we got health ‘concerns’ now
And catch up on the latest developments:
- You have a secret health score and it is as dystopian as it sounds. (The Hated One)
- The internet of bodies: collecting our physical data via devices that can be implanted, swallowed or simply worn, generating huge amounts of health-related information
- China begins monitoring brain waves in the workplace (just to show how crazy things are getting)
20 simple steps to a conscious digital life
Worried already? Let’s see what you can do. The information below reflects what I did, mainly focused on Android (and Linux). Therefore; take what you need and leave the rest:
1. Phones still work without Google account:
Installing a custom ROM requires some technical skill and if you don’t feel like going through the hassle, disconnecting your Google account from your phone is a good enough strategy.
- Why you should dump your Apple and Google phone, top 5 reasons – Rob Braxman
- Remove your Google account from your phone
You don’t even have to give up your account, just delete it from your phone. The least you need to do, if you decide to keep your account, is to tweak some privacy settings:
After disconnecting your Google account from phone you should disable all running google services and revoke their permissions through your phone’s settings.
2. If you want to cut Google from your life completely (start by backing up your data (documents, photo’s, keep notes, youtube subscriptions and videos, calendar, contacts etc.)
3. What to do after removing the Google play-store app? To install apps and system updates you can use Aurora Store and F-Droid instead:
You can also side load apps by manually installing apk’s you can find on the web, just keep in mind that you have to keep track of updates yourself.
4. Take a look at your phone’s app permissions
5. Be specifically careful with health and fitness apps.
6. In the F-Droid and Aurora store you will find foss (free and open source software) alternatives for standard apps. My favorites:
- I use mostly Simple Tools
- Encrypted S-notes, which also has a desktop app
- My Tutanota email app has a calendar so I am covered there
- Other safe(r) and secure email options
- Google Maps alternatives
- again; use GPS, location tracking sparingly and how to turn if off
7. Realize that when you own a website, you can no longer use webmaster tools and analytics when you go goog-less. There are alternatives, but I personally don’t bother.
8. My vice was YouTube, I no longer have my channel but I can still watch:
- FreeTube app (no need to register, you can import YT subscriptions and works through TOR)
- NewPipe (similar to FreeTube)
9. Cannot give up Facebook? At least be aware of the risks of using social media.
- Remove social media apps from your phone, instead use a browser and put a bookmark on your home screen.
10. Photo sharing, be careful!
- How to disable geo-tagging on android
- Use scrambled EXIF before sharing your photo’s in messenger apps and on social media
11. Messaging (this one is a tough one to let go, but no; WhatsApp is not private)
12. Cloud options: for me, a basic cloud service works for now. But there are many fancy alternatives:
13. Privacy friendly browsers for your phone are:
14. Firefox for desktop can be hardened, which means to tinker with the config / settings:
- 2020 guide to hardening Firefox
The tutorial mentions add-ons, but..; the less add-ons the better. I use another browser with developer add-ons when I need them:
- Use multiple browsers for privacy and security
Read when you have come this far:
- Browser fingerprinting and the paradox of privacy versus security
15. Use multi-factor authentication (MFA). There is a lot to say about MFA, there are many ways you can go about this (most apps have it built in)
- How and why use multi-factor authentication
- Best security keys 2020 (hardware-based)
- FreeOTP app for Android
16. You need a VPN service but I am not one to know which one is best, so I leave that up to experts. Please read into it, because many (free) VPN accounts were compromised recently.
- Best VPN services – PCmag
- Instead of using VPN on the device level, you can install a VPN on a router. Some prefer this method.
17. MacChanger lets you spoof your mac-address:
- MacChanger for linux: (also available for other OS’)
- To spoof your mac-address on android phone you need a rooted phone (you would need a rooted phone anyway to install a custom ROM)
18. Rethink the passwords and ID’s you use.
19. When you are really getting the hang of it, you can go Edward Snowden style:
- Use Whonix OS on Qubes (virtual machine)
- Qubes, security by isolation (available for all OS’. (I am still studying and considering this one..)
- Advantages of Linux over Windows
There is much, much more to say and do when it comes to privacy and security online, but this is my approach and it is workable and do-able for most people.
I hope this will help anyone who wants to be/feel safer online.