Privacy? What privacy? As many of you know, we live in a country where our government is rather… “Surveillance-happy” (the UK and US both), and its power to spy on us is ever increasing. Trends of increasing surveillance is worrisome, especially if you have children who are active online. So, what can we do to retain at least a thread of the privacy we should have? While this list doesn’t include ways to swiftly Matrix-move past surveillance cameras on the streets, it will, hopefully, give you some control over your online privacy:
- Use social media platforms that don’t sell your information to third parties – Facebook, amongst other leading social media platforms and websites, have been embroiled in quite a few scandals over their sharing of user data to third parties (mostly, to advertisers). It doesn’t sit well with many people that their data, including private information, can be sold without their knowing, but luckily, there are safer, more private social media platforms out there that do not sell the data of their users. For instance, MeWe, Diaspora* and Movim are social networking sites that emphasises privacy as a key feature for users. If you’re looking for more hardcore options, browsing PRISM Break‘s website may be helpful. PRISM Break coined its name from the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance programme ‘PRISM‘, which is used to collect private electronic data from online users. A third, perhaps more interesting option, is an app called CitizenMe, which allows users to ‘spy’ on themselves and sell their own private data. The prospect of selling your own data sounds daunting, but the idea behind CitizenMe is that the power to control whether your data is sold or not, and to whom, is within your hands.
- Choose your internet browser carefully – Many of your favourite internet browsers and their extensions have been part of several surveillance and data mining scandals. Luckily, there are some browsers that provide security to users through company transparency and add-ons that protect users from being monitored. SiliconAngle has suggested three spy-free alternatives to test out: Mozilla Firefox (who have a range of security add-ons such as DoNotTrackMe, Privacy Protector, etc.), GNUzilla and IceCat, and Tor Browser Bundle. More details about these browsers can be found here.
- Look for alternative email services, too – Most mainstream email services allow surveillance technology to access your private emails to data mine and retain information about users. Similarly to seeking out secure social networking platforms and internet browsers, if you want to retain some of your online privacy, you’ll need to do the same for your email service providers, too. A few recommended alternatives include ProtonMail, which uses end-to-end encryption to ensure security, Kolab, and Hushmail (which is not free, unfortunately).
- Mask your IP address – There are two popular ways of doing this that will help you to encrypt your internet sessions through an external server (as detailed by SilliconAngle), which will mask your IP and protect you from being logged as you browse the net (though, remember that sites like Facebook can still harvest your data once you log in). The first way to do this is through anonymising software like Tor. Tor is ‘free software and an open network that helps you defend against traffic analysis, […] and state security’ (quoted from the Tor homepage) by bouncing your connection around several servers. Software such as Tor will essentially anonymise and protect you from third parties trying to access your browsing information and history. The second way is by accessing the internet through a Virtual Private Network (VPN), and you can access more information about popular VPNs here.
It is important to remember, however, that these measures are not foolproof against surveillance and spyware. As far as I know, it is near to (or entirely) impossible to have a system that is fully secure. On the bright side, rest assured that these alternative services and software will make it more difficult for third parties to access your private data, and that’s pretty great in a country where surveillance is literally, everywhere.