According to the United Nations, privacy is a fundamental human right. Yet, most people choose convenience and don't think that much about privacy.
Well, you can have a little of both now – here are some tools that make privacy more convenient.
I am not sponsored by any company in this article and I don't make money off of any of the links I include here. I am just a satisfied user, trying to achieve reasonable digital privacy.
Table of Contents
This web app allows you to create secure virtual credit cards for free. You can create one for every subscription or online purchase and set limits and expirations. With this service, you never have to give out your real online card number. Privacy.com doesn't sell your data either, they make money directly from card transactions.
Bad actors, tech companies, and governments spy on regular people all the time. It's actually not that hard to do if you are communicating through most regular channels. That's why it's important to encrypt your communications whenever possible.
Signal is an easy-to-use messaging app that works the same way as iMessage or Android Messages, except that both the sender and receiver must have the Signal app installed.
Signal also has plenty of features like group messaging, encrypted phone calls, and disappearing messages.
ProtonMail (and soon ProtonDrive and ProtonCalendar)
ProtonMail is the gold standard for Gmail alternatives. Not only are the mobile and web apps well-designed, they are built specifically with your privacy in mind. All emails are secured automatically with end-to-end encryption; even they cannot decrypt your emails.
The code for ProtonMail is also open source so you can audit the security features if you would like to. The free email accounts are quite good, though I upgraded to a paid account for more features like having multiple email addresses.
The team behind ProtonMail has pledged to release ProtonDrive in the next few months as a privacy-focused alternative to Google Drive. This is very exciting news and I am eagerly awaiting the release to try it out.
OwnCloud is a free, open-source, self-hosted Google Drive alternative where you own your own data. This one takes a bit more work but if you are committed to de-Googling your life, you might want to consider it. I run my own instance for less than $5 per month and use to store and share all of the files and calendars that I would normally have in Google Drive.
They also have clients for all major desktop and mobile devices, making it that much more convenient.
Again, Google dominates the analytics market with its Google Analytics product. They track and store your information and can do whatever they want with it.
If you want to be free from these mega-corporations, Matomo offers a great, self-hosted solution that is supposed to be more accurate than GA. Their product also gives you more control and user privacy features.
I have hosted my own Matomo instance for several projects over the past few years and it works quite well.
Standard Notes is an encrypted note-taking app that syncs your information across devices. I think it's a great tool if you just need a simple note-taking application.
The free version gives you a lot of functionality including markdown support and syncing across devices. I use the paid version because I need to be able to embed images in my notes and I like some of their other premium plugins they offer; it costs $4.17 per month for a year or $2.48 per month for five years. I also like supporting companies that are building great privacy-focused tools.
Two-factor auth is just about the best thing you can do to secure your accounts today. SMS is one option, but not as sure as using an application.
Right now, I use Authy for all of my accounts. There are other options like Google Authenticator, LastPass Authenticator, and Duo, but I am trying to avoid using questionable companies that do not respect my privacy.
I'm definitely not in love with Authy overall, but the interface is clean and it works well for the most part. If you have another suggestion, leave in the comments below.
I use a VPN all the time, everywhere I go. ProtonVPN is my favorite one right now because, not only do I love the Proton brand, but it's great tool.
They have a lot of servers all over the world and they keep adding new ones. ProtonVPN also has great apps for all my devices. I have this service bundled with my ProtonMail account but you can sign up for it à la carte if you want.
They have a decent amount of servers available for users on the free version and they don't sell your data like other VPN services do to monetize non-paying clients.
This is my second option for VPN right now. Their apps have worked really well for me over the past several years. I also like that they give you the option to pay via mailing cash to them or cryptocurrencies.
They don't store any data about you at all so their is no data to sell or give to a government.
Browsers & Plugins
If you aren't using a password manager by now, you need to catch up to the times. This might be the most basic security tool for anyone who uses the internet.
I started out using LastPass, then 1Password and Encryptr, and now I'm testing out Roboform. I love Enctyptr because it works really well and is made by one of the best privacy-conscious companies around, SpiderOak.
However, they don't have a browser plugin, which is why I'm comparing 1Password and Roboform right now to see which one I want to use in the long-term.
Firefox is a great open-source browser that was entirely rebuilt a few years ago to be much faster and more modern. They have really upped their game and, since the upgrade, I like some of the developer tools better than Chrome.
I switched to using Firefox as my main browser about 18 months ago and now I only use Google Chrome for testing purposes. I also use their mobile browser, Firefox Focus, from time to time because it only lets you have one tab open at once, and it has one button that clears the tab and all of your browsing data.
Brave is my second choice browser right now.
Whenever I get a nebulous error in the Firefox dev tools, I check Brave because errors usually display differently in different browsers. Weirdly enough, cross-checking against different browsers helps me solve dev issues more quickly.
It's scary to think that everything you have ever searched for might be stored somewhere.
Studies show that we are more honest with our search engine than our closest friends most of the time. Do you trust companies like Google to keep this personal information private?
Duckduckgo is the best alternative for keeping your search history private and avoiding advertising trackers. I have been using it for several years now as my main search engine and it works very well; better than Google even for many searches. They also have a privacy-focused mobile browser.
Duckduckgo Privacy Essentials
This is a simple extension that blocks hidden trackers on websites and it's available for all major browsers. If you want to find the easiest way to get started protecting your privacy, this is it.
I am not at all against all ads. Small business are able to reach potential customers and grow by advertising after all. I am opposed to tracking and collecting unnecessary data; and especially selling that data.
uBlock Origin does the best job of blocking these trackers of any browser plugin I have tried. They also have the option for me to whitelist sites that I want to support.
This is an extension made by EFF and The Tor Project that forces a website to use the HTTPS version if it's available. Many websites still default to the HTTP version or have links inside the site that will take you to that unsecured site.
This extension fixes that for you by just installing HTTPS Everywhere in your browser.
Facebook tries to track you all over the web without your knowledge or consent. This extension basically puts your Facebook account in a sandbox and makes it difficult for them to collect your information on other sites.
This low-hanging fruit and I always feel surprised when I see people who don't cover their webcams at all. When you need to use the webcam, all you have to do is move the sticker and replace it after. They even have slide switches that you can toggle back and forth to cover it if you prefer this option over stickers.
Phone/Tablet Camera Cover
I haven't found a great solutions to this problem yet. Right now, I use stickers like the ones I mentioned for my webcam. I found a phone case where you can slide plastic pieces over both the front and back cameras to cover them, but it's very cheaply made so I don't use it.
Stickers are OK with me for now until I get the phone I mention below. If you know of a better solution for this, let me know in the comments.
Several promising companies have popped up that make privacy-focused device alternatives to the giants like Apple or Google.
The best company for these devices that I have found so far is Purism. They make laptops and just came out with their first phone model. The phone features hardware switches to turn off the camera, Bluetooth, and WiFi.
I pre-ordered it five months ago but won't get it until March because of the demand. I am going to write a review for it once I receive it. I'm definitely really excited.
Other Privacy Tools
Here are some other privacy-focused tools that I didn't review in this article but are still worth checking out:
- Wire Collaboration Platform, For team collaboration
- otpauth, One-time password authentication
- Bit Warden, Team password & sensitive data sharing
- Blah DNS, A small hobby ad blocker DNS project with DoH, DoT, and DNSCrypt support
- Jumbo Privacy, An assistant to help audit & fix privacy settings
- Dash Lane, Another password & private information manager
I would be remiss if I ended this articles without giving a shout out to Edward Snowden's new book, "Permanent Record." It really shows you the importance of being concerned about privacy in today's age.
I hope you enjoyed reading about these privacy tools. If you know of something I've missed or have another suggestion, please leave a note in the comments below.
Here's how you can find me:
Have a great day!