A Simple and Effective Guide to Online Privacy

Published on 17 Jul 2021 | Updated on 18 Apr 2022
Written by Pranav Chakkarwar
7 minutes to read

What is Online Privacy?

We are unaware that simple activities on the internet can have far-reaching consequences in the real world. Big internet companies have already invested millions in building server farms that run AI bots to monitor and analyze your emails, phone records, texts, and everything else you can think of. Believe me when I say, sometimes they know you better than you know yourself. This problem has already been discussed in one of my other posts Why is privacy important?

Start with the right Hardware

For Laptops and desktops, I would recomend purchasing from System 76. They deliver with Open source POP OS (Linux), Intel management engine disabled and mostly everything here is open source.

For Mobile devices, Buy an Android phone (more on that later) and strictly stay away from apple devices. Linux phones are also an option if you have the money to try something new.

Choose the right Operating System

By Linux I mean Linux the Kernal + Some GUI. Linux was once tough to use, but if you install it today, you may find it to be really simple. Many applications, such as the Adobe suite and games, are still incompatible with Linux. However, if you are a typical user who mostly uses a web browser, you should be alright. If you can’t use Linux as a daily driver because of a compatibility issues or other reasons. Try dual booting Linux with other operating systems then using Linux for private work. Encrypting the drive while installing Linux is always a wise decision. You can evaluate Linux distribution options on Distrochooser.

For Android phones, I recommend buying a Pixel phone (The Irony) and installing Graphene OS or Calyx OS on it. If you are already using android, try to find an open source ROM for your current phone on XDA Forums. The AOSP (Android open source project) and Lineage OS are compatible with many devices. See if these are available for your device. These OS will come without any Google apps. If you can’t live without Google, consider installing MicroG rather than a GApps package (Google Apps). Download apps using F-droid

Social Networks

It is difficult to substitute a social network because all of your friends and relatives are probably wasting their time on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, etc. I suggest you to read my post on browsing social media without being tracked

Try using these alternatives to popular social media services.

If you still can’t live without the mainstream platforms. You can use privacy preserving frontends to limit their tracking.

Private Communications

Finally, it is up to your threat model, but if you can, use a more secure app in all cases.

Search Engines

People use google to get good search results that are relevant because everytime you search on google, it’s recorded and used for you. Google provides many such free services that rely on collecting user data. Google has it’s trackers in millions of apps and websites. All these techniques are used to create profiles for individual people. These profiles are used to show so called relevant search results and personalised ads. This may not be a problem if you search to find What does a cat look like? It’s not going to show you an picture of a dog. But, when you search for subjective topics (e.g. politics). Your profile may be used to show you information that you already believe in. For e.g. If Google determines you are a flat earth believer it will keep showing flat earth videos to keep you engaged on youtube and earn from the ads. By the way, The earth is not fu*king flat and google knows it too.

What are some alternatives?

There are many more. Just don’t google it to find one. 😂

Email Services

It’s crucial to pick the correct email provider because even if you sign up for an email that doesn’t have any personal data attached to it, it generates significant data as well as meta data. Your email may ultimately become more valuable than your phone number as you utilize it more.

I usually check the following when using an email provider

Here are some that work well

Don’t forget to deploy an Email alias service with your new email account. This will protect you from unintentional spam, automatic tracking, and if some service’s database is leaked, your original email address or other aliases will remain unexposed to threats. All the recommended Email providers also offer aliasing services but I prefer using a dedicated one.

At some point in the future you may want to switch email providers, but It is often not easy to move from one email provider to another so consider buying a custom domain.

Phone number

In terms of phone number privacy, it depends on which country you live in. Purchasing a phone number without a valid ID is not possibe in many countries. Just search for how to get a burner phone in your counrty.

Block ads, trackers, malware

Browser add-ons will stop trackers on websites.

Device level add-ons will stop trackers on websites as well as native apps.

Network level add-ons will stop trackers on any devices connected to your network. Laptops, Phones, Printers or even those stupid Fridges with useless apps.

Try to stay away from these companies

I understand that abandoning a service or a device is difficult, but try to avoid these companies if possible (at least for your personal accounts or hardware).

To put it simply,

Use FOSS (Free and open source software) and avoid any Digital Ecosystems.

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