Blog / Privacy tools for the information age 🔐
When I was first learning how to code I created a website called Privacy Tech Resource which was a curated list of privacy tools that I have found useful and recommend others to use. I have since taken down that site, but thought I would write a blog post containing the same information and some updated resources too.
Nov 23, 2022
It's no secret that privacy is at an all time low in human history. Many people would like to reduce their online exposure but are unsure of how to do so or think it is too much work or impossible altogether.
The good news is that there are many tools to help protect yourself online and they are no harder to use than the same applications already used by regular people every day.
Certain companies including Facebook and Google I would recommend avoiding entirely even if using the following privacy tools, but I understand that this takes some time and effort and not everyone is ready to begin the process.
Each tool is additive so even just using one or two will be a great improvement if you are starting from zero. You don't need to start using every tool at once, although it is fun and exciting reclaiming your privacy rights and I encourage everyone to do this!
One final note is that this is not nearly an exhaustive list of all the privacy tools out there. There are many great privacy projects and 3 good questions to ask when you are evaluating the validity of a project are:
There is a fantastic website you can check out with a more complete list and additional information about online privacy called Privacy Guides.
Now here are the tools:
Browse the web safely and privately
This browser is feature rich for advanced users but comes with privacy by default for non-technical users as well. They have integrated optional Tor and IPFS support that is as easy as a click of a button.
Tor is likely the most private way to browse the internet. Not only will you be protected from ads and tracking but your IP address will also be shielded from websites you visit, giving you greater anonymity. In addition to that, even your ISP will not see your network traffic because it is routed through multiple nodes before reaching the destination. Tor is a non-profit and is used by many people worldwide who's lives depend on privacy. If you enjoy the service or just want to support human rights, please consider donating to the Tor Project.
Bromite is a good mobile-only option and available on F-Droid.
Harden your browser even further
Websites can add extra and unnecessary information to URLs in order to track you. This extension clears all of that metadata, giving you only the URL you actually require to surf the web.
We all hate cookies that follow you around the internet right? Well if you don't want to disable them entirely in your browser, then you can add this extension and set the parameters for when you would like them to be removed.
Protects you against tracking through "free", centralized, content delivery.
Brought to you by the good folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, HTTPS Everywhere is essential. Some browsers have this available as a setting now but the extension is still a good add-on. There is really no excuse for a website to not have a certificate these days seeing as they are available for free from Let's Encrypt!. If you visit a website using HTTP instead of HTTPS, that means any data you enter is wide open for the world to see, including payment information. This extension will force all websites to use HTTPS.
Privacy Redirect is an awesome extension that will redirect URLs from popular sites like Twitter, Reddit and YouTube to privacy respecting frontends. This way you still get to view the content you want, but can do so in a much better way.
The web browsers I recommend will come with ad and tracking blocking by default. However, I like to use uBlock on top of these default settings for anything that may slip through the initial filters.
Encrypted communication & private connections
Did you know that all of your text messages are sent un-encrypted? That is unacceptable. Signal provides an easy to use mobile or desktop app. When you message other Signal users your communication will be end-to-end encrypted, the way it should be.
Matrix provides secure AND decentralized communication using the IRC protocol on the backend with an easy to use interface on the frontend. This platform is great for online communities.
The engineers at Keet took private communications a step further by not only allowing for easily encrypted messages, but the protocol itself is peer-2-peer. Meaning that there aren't even any trusted third parties involved in the data transfer and all communication happens directly between you and the person you are talking with. Now that is cool.
Jitsi is an open source and privacy respecting video conferencing application.
Secure and encrypted email based out of Switzerland, Proton offers a free and paid version of their service. This is an excellent alternative to Gmail which scans users emails to sell data. Emails will be end-to-end encrypted to other ProtonMail users or if you set a password to non-Proton users. There are many other useful features such as expiration times and more.
Secure your network traffic
Mullvad is a great VPN option offering a super easy sign-up process. In fact, there is no real sign-up required. You can pay via bitcoin if you want and no further information is needed. You are generated your own unique account identifier to give you access to your tunnels.
ProtonVPN, like all VPNs, will block websites from tracking your IP address to reveal your identity. It will also hide your network traffic from your ISP. But it will be visible to the VPN provider, however Proton states they do not keep logs. It is up to you to decide if this is enough to suit your use-case.
Search privately and with less influence
Search with privacy and independent results for a massively improved experience. I have been using Brave Search since it's beta release with no issues.
Free and open source apps
F-Droid is your mobile app store that contains only free and open source software. Free as in freedom.
View from a distance
For Twitter inside the web browser there is Nitter, you are able to view all the same information as the real thing.
If you want a mobile app that allows you to follow accounts and have a feed, that's what Fritter does. You can have your own private Twitter feed.
This open source Twitter app lets you have full functionality if you have an account. You can still participate, but from a distance.
CloudTube is a private YouTube frontend inside the browser, you can even have subscriptions if you enable a cookie for it. Isn't it relaxing not having a page full of suggested videos?
FreeTube is a private desktop application for YouTube, it is my favorite and I personally use it every day. You can hide many annoying YT features to have a clean interface, you can also create profiles to categorize your subs.
To complete the YT alternative stack, there is NewPipe for mobile. You now have no excuse to ditch Google. You can access YT privately via the browser, desktop or mobile. Happy viewing!
A browser based frontend for IG. The project has since been deprecated by the maintainer but I wanted to include it as a shout-out to the hard word that was put in during its operations.
A private Reddit frontend in the browser.
A mobile frontend app for Reddit where you can sign into your account and have all the same functionality, minus the ads and tracking.
Ad-free and open source Twitch mobile application available on F-Droid. You can sign into an account or watch anonymously.
OpenStreetMap is an alternative to Google that is both open source and open data. You can use OSM directly or there are many applications built on top of OSM using their openly available API. Another cool feature is that you can help contribute to the map by adding data yourself!
Support the little guys
There is a dedicated team behind this small open source project and they have integrated bitcoin payments within the app, so you can send tips to all your favorite shows.
Translate without tracking
Similar to the social media frontends listed above this app allows you to use services that would otherwise be a privacy nightmare in a private way.
Access information without worries
Another FOSS alternative frontend focused on privacy specifically.
Privacy focused OS
If you use an Apple device you should switch to Android, Apple has openly admitted to scanning users devices (plus it's closed source). If you use Android already then you should use a custom OS that is de-Googled. There are a few options out there including Graphene and Calyx but both of those require using a Pixel device. So that is why I recommend LineageOS. It has a large contributor community and is available for many different mobile phones. You will need a bit of tech knowledge in order to follow the guide and flash this to your phone. Having software that you control on a device that you paid for is the way it should work. No more bloatware or spyware. You can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you have now kicked surveillance tech to the curb.
If you don't want to buy a Linux laptop you can flash any distribution onto whatever existing laptop you have. This will again take a bit of technical knowledge but it is not too hard. elementary OS is a good option that is privacy respecting and blazing fast because of this.
Secure, private and open source
Star Labs make high quality, open source Linux laptops. You can choose from a variety of different operating systems to be pre-installed. Everything will work out of the box with impressive boot-up speeds. All levels of users will enjoy an incredible experience using Linux, especially if you are coming from Windows. There are a few modals available that you can customize depending on how much RAM you require and other preferences.
That is the list to get you started on your digital privacy journey. Please reach out if you have any questions! 🙂
"Ultimately, saying that you don't care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different from saying you don't care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say. Or that you don't care about freedom of the press because you don't like to read. Or that you don't care about freedom of religion because you don't believe in God..." — Edward Snowden, Permanent Record