This is a guide to the best tools to try and take control over your own data. Safety, privacy and also usability are important criteria in chosing what to recommend.
Everything you search for, when using engines like Google and Bing is tracked and can be used later. Often we search for stuff that is really private. Here are some private search engines:
- Startpage (Dutch)
- Qwant (French/German)
- Mojeek (British)
- Hulbee (Swiss)
- Duckduckgo (US)
- Searx.me (meta search engine for the nerds)
The Firefox browser also offers some extensions which can be used when you use Google; Blur and Adnauseam, which drown your searches in hundreds of ghost searches. If you use Google for other searches than professional searches, then log out of you gmail, if you have that, as the tracking then not necessarily connects to your name.
Maps and other Google alternatives
Apple Maps is better than Google Maps, when it comes to privacy. But the very best is Open Street Map. Download OsmandMaps and inside that you can freely download the map(s) you need. Here you find Open Street Map for your computer.
A great alternative to Google Docs is French Cryptpad.fr. You find lots of Google alternatives in this guide.
You can stop others from following you from website to website and collect data about your interests and potential problems by installing plug-ins or extensions in your browser. They can give you problems with certain services like your bank or news websites blocking the blockers, but then you should just have a clean browser for that. It is always good to use many browsers to spread your footprints. Blocking tools typically dont block first party-cookies remembering passwords or content in your shopping cart and they don't share data about you with others. They block third party-cookies or marketing-cookies, which share data with hundreds of other websites.
- Disconnect is really great on your computer. You still get the ads (and thus support ad-financed websites) but you block marketing cookies.
- Ublock is a good cookie- and adblocker for Chrome, Safari and Firefox.
- Ghostery.com can be used both for the computer and a browser for your moibile. It has been bought by the really cool German browser Cliqz.com, which can also be recommend as it protects you data by default.
- The app Adblockfast is one of the best for your mobile gadgets. It blocks both for ads and marketing-cookies. Can be turned on and off with a single touch on the screen.
SAFE CHAT & SKYPE' APPS
Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and many other similar services are not private. Messenger is said to listen to your IRL conversations, if you've given it access to your microphone, and WhatsApp keeps metadata and sends your phone number to its owner, Facebook. You can find really good alternatives, when it comes to chat- and communications apps. The best are;
- Wire (Swiss) financed partly by Janus Friis, who co-founded Skype. Works out of Berlin - complying with the strictest privacy laws in the world.
- Signal (US) is also good - though not as great on usability.
- Jitsi Meet (supported by Australian Atlassian) is based on open source and is a good service, when you need to meet with more people in a video conference.
With the Opera-browser you can begin to play with VPN. The Norwegian browser gives you free access to five servers in five different regions (you cannot chose country yourself). Download the browser at opera.com, set the personal data settings to activate VPN and then you can chose country. For Scandinavians Germany is a good choice, as prices there are cheaper.
When you look for a VPN-service, chose one with head quarters in Europe (better privacy laws than China and US) and after which countries they have servers in. There are a lot to chose between. Here are some:
- F-Secure (Finland)
- ipredator (Sweden)
- ibvpn (Rumania) lots of servers
- Earthvpn (Cyprus) lots of servers
Use secure and privacy-enhancing cloud-servies in stead of e.g. Dropbox. Here are some of them:
- Seafile (German)
- Hetzner.com (German)
- Nextcloud (open source, originally German)
- Cozy (French)
- Tresorit (Switzerland)
- Icloud from Apple (US)
- TomTom (Dutch)
- Apple Smartwatch (Yes Apple is critisized for not paying taxes and beinge transparent, but they are good on privacy)
The biggest apps, that let you track your fertility are from the US and are regulated after consumer law meaning that health data is only regulated in the hands os doctors and insurance conpanies. Therefore this one is the only recommendable:
- Clue (German)
The known social media platforms are all public platforms. Meaning that everything you do can be accessed by others. Some social media claim you can be private at their platforms, you just need to set their 'privacy settings' or that pictures disappear. This means that you - to some degree - can control who see your posts, but true privacy it is not. If someone with a public wall shares you post it is public. If someone takes a screen dump and shares it, it is public. Therefore it is a good idea always to ask yourself before you share: Can I shout this out on BBC?
Most people don't understand ‘privacy settings’. Try this Stalkscan.com showing what people on Facebook is revealing because they don't understand Facebook's privacy settings - and because some of it is just public by default.
As a minimum you should make sure that you have to give consent to everyone, who is trying to tag you and you should make sure that you are the only one who can see your friends, as it says more about you than you can imagine whom you are friends with.
Do also consider operating with more identities online. Save your real name for your professional identity and behaviour and used fake names for when you are not professional (even in fake names you should keep all stuff you consider private out). Read more about this in capt 8 and 16.
The reason for taking control over your social date is that data brokers are scraping data from social media to build profiles of all of us and sell lists of people with cancer, fathers of children died in car accidents etc.
Consider not sharing:
- Your social security number. Not even your date of birth. Used by identity theft worldwide.
- Health information (even though you, your brother or your friend have been cured for cancer).
- Travel plans before and during the journey. If you want to share holiday photos, do it after your holiday. The smart thieves are out there, and the same are insurance companies, so do not write on your 'doorstep' that you're not home.
- Running and cycling routes (so others can see where you live).
- Pictures of children (they have a right to privacy and decide what pictures they want out there).
- Negative thoughts about others - including your (former) employer. Complaining and gossiping about and bullying others is something the fewest employers want.
- Nudes, prints or other compromising images of yourself and others (damaging to your reputation). You can get punished for sharing nudes of others without their consent.
- Religious, political and sexual attitudes (remember it when you engage in debates with politicians on Facebook - their walls are open for data scraping).
- Risk behaviors that can damage your reputation in relation to e.g. banks and insurance companies.
- Your location. Where you are. Also at Snapchat's SnapMaps.
Alternative Social Media
Alternative Video Platforms
YouTube is popular and okay for professional content, but here you are more in control of your data;
If you want to use Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Musically etc for all kinds of updates that have nothing to do with your work or professionalism, consider using a different name than your own and keep your real name 'clean' for your professional identity. Only use Facebook in your own name, if it is for your professional work. Never use Facebook for what you perceive as private - not even i a fake name, because much more is needed to hide effectively. But with a different name, it is harder for employers, educational institutions, ex-lovers, identity thieves and others to find you. Also, use an alias when downloading reports, apps, games, etc. where they ask for your name, address, email, etc. unless you have full confidence in the service and where you have to pay by credit card and therefore need your own name. Only use your own name in services you trust. You can find aliases at fakenamegenerator.com.
Don't steal names from others or pretend to be someone else (that's what criminals do). Those you chat with in a different name should know, who you are. It's not about cheating other humans but about confusing the algorithms/machines.
When using an alias, remember to associate an alias email with it. Here you can use some of the 'free' email services such as Gmail and Hotmail.
Be careful when downloading apps for your smartphone (and avoid apps on Facebook in general), whether it's games, quizzes, career apps or applications. First, check what data they want from you. And ask yourself if the service is worth your data.
It's hard to assess the price of your data, but some apps ask for access to your calendar, contacts, inbox, and microphone - often without it being necessary. Maybe there is an option that does not ask for much? An alarm clock app does not need to know your location? Your running app might need it, so it may be ok as long, as you trust the company behind the app.
You should review your settings on your smartphone (on iphone; 'anonymity'). Which apps have access to what data. For example, many apps often have access to your microphone and location, thus recording who you're talking to about what, or knowing where you go. Perhaps you should turn apps' access to microphone, location, photos, camera etc. off - at least when you're not using them? You should turn off location services from your camera, so that the meta-data disappears - such as the location - stored in all images. On an iPhone, you may also consider turning off 'frequent locations', which you'll find under 'system services' under 'location services.'
A really cool way to check who is trying to get access to your mike and webcam on your MAC is Oversight.
PROTECT YOUR EMAIL
There are lots of email-services you can use as trash-emails, when you use your aliases or just want a report without paying with your real data, but you really need a paid email-service either through you telco (if you trust that) or one of these:
They all protect your data and don't track you in the same way as many free email-services do.
USE MORE BROWSERS
It is good to use more browsers to spread your footprints. Install cookies blocking on those you use most - including for social media. Firefox is one of the best big browsers when it comes to data control, as there are lots of good add-ons (extensions) to protect you or confuse the algorithms, but the standard search engine here is Google. The very best browsers are below;
- Cliqz is a really good and more convenient choice. It is German, and it does not block trackers but anonymizes all data that trackers are picking up, so you are anonymous. It does not blur your IP-address. Cliqz has its own search engine - and leads over to Google, if their own search engine has no answer.
- Brave (US) automatically blocks tracking and is fast.
- The TOR browser is the most private, but can be a bit slow and not very good on mobile (where it is called Onion & Orbot). TOR anonymizes your IP-address, cookies and what browser, computer and operating system you use.
DELETE YOUR DIGITAL FOOTPRINTS
It is never too late to get control over you data and delete the footprint, you are not happy about. Some might be have gotten a viral life and it hard to get control over, but often you can delete what you don't want out there.
First step is asking youself, who is the original source? A friend, yourself or a third party? Ask the original source to remove the stuff. If you wrote something on Instagram, delete it. If you are tagged, ask the person to untag you, and if you have been aggresively participating in a debate on a news site, which often come up high in search results, ask the news site to remove your name - or at least pseudonymize it (they will know your real name). After some time your real name will be cleansed by your aggressive arguments, as Google's search algorithme is being constantly refreshed.
If you friends have shared pictures of you without your consent, they have to remove them, as it is illegal and can give them big fines in case you sue them.
At the Norwegian site slettmeg.no or the American justdelete.me you can get help to delete yourself from different websites. At deseat.me you can check all the sites, you have signed up to with Google and then delete that.
Google will delete search results on your name, if you can prove that they are wrong or outdated. Find the links by searching 'Delete me Google'. It's only in Europe, we have that right.
HOW TO TRUST?
To find out how to trust others always search for answers to following questions:
- What does the company live from. Other people's data or a product or service they charge for? Or do they sell another related product for money?
- Is it a company at the stock exchange (then they have to think mainly about the stock holders' money), a non-profit, family owned or government-owned company behind the product?
- Where does the company have its headquater? We have better laws in Europe than in Chinan and the US. And especially Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Swizerland and Norway are enforcing their privacy laws.
- Can you clealy see who is behind the site and get in contact with them?
- Can you interact with those behind and what are others saying about the product or the company?
- Is you data being sold to third parties? Or are your attention being sold to third parties? Remember when something is free, then you are the product.
- How does the company rank on sites comparing companies on e.g. privacy sucs as Ranking Digital Rights, TOSDR, TermsOfConditions, Electronic Frontier Foundation and TrusPilot? And what happens when you search the companys name plus 'privacy.'
- Remember: A lot of companies are branding themselves as if they are on your side. The are 'mission-driven' and want to make the world a beter place. Be aware of that - it might be pure bullshit.
- Turn off wifi and bluetooth and turn off your microphone and location, as often as possible. Only allow apps you trust to access your microphone (many apps listen on your conversations to collect data about you) and location (which can say as much about you as your fingerprints). Put tape over your webcam, as your gadget may be hacked and others may look at you from the other side of your webcam.
- Do not use the same password on all of your services. It is better to have different passwords on a small note in your wallet. There must always be uppercase and lowercase letters as well as numbers in your password. Use long sentences - easier to remember. Download a password manager (which you can have as app on both computer and mobile), where you only have to remember one long password, and then the rest stays behind that password. Choose 1password (Canadian) or Keepass (French open source, which is good because others can see how it is developed).
- Choose websites that begin with HTTPS as much as possible - the 's' is a sign that the page is encrypted and thus protects your data.
- Use two-factor identification with the services you use that offer it or do it yourself with; FreeOPT or Yubikee.
It is important that you are visible digitally. Social media is good for pushing your professional identity, ie your job and job-related things, or if you have a professional thing your are good at (like programming games, playing backgammon or gold), that you can show off.
When you are going to search for your first job, consider the following;
- Sign up with your real name on LinkedIn, about.me and Twitter.com. Make sure you have a good photo, a short and clear summary / bio (that's what most people can read) and a clear contact opportunity for you - like an email that most business people use.
- Create your own website and find some tags that you use again and again, when writing blogs and content on your site (so you'll be more easily found in searches). It's about producing searchable content.
- Check applymagicsauce.com and sign up with your Facebook or Twitter profiles - or even better both. Here you can get an analysis of your psychological profile and get an idea of what others can also find out about you. The website is developed by researchers at Cambridge University and the research has been used by employers and politicians to target both economic and political messages to you. You can also analyze text on the site.
Keep in mind that it's very easy for others to interpret things about you that you disagree with, and if you don't have control over your digital footsteps, it can be easier. If you didn't get the job or even the interview, then you are probably not told if it is due to your digital footsteps - which can often be the case. So, get control of them.
1. edition 2017
© Pernille Tranberg
Author: Pernille Tranberg
Cover: Paws Fabrik
WHAT IS PRIVACY AND WHY
What can potential employers see about you, when they search after your name? Or partners, parents, institutions and others? Having somewhat control over you own data is the definition of digital privacy:
The right to decide who knows what about you when
There are many good reasons for having control over one's own data and privacy. The most important is your 'digital resume’ – that is the first 2-3 page results when your name is entered in the search engine. You should try and influence that. Another good reason is to avoid targeted advertising - not least targeted prices. And a third reason is to avoid the filter boble - so you get other surprising results than related to your digital footprints.
Here is a guide to the best tools to take control over you own data. In the guide convenience is an important criterium, as lack thereof is a common reason to drop secure services. So, a combination of privacy/security and convenience is the best.
You can always find an updated list and direct links to all the toos here:
If you want get even further, there's more here:
Motherboard made this cool guide but most focus is on US tools and how to avoid government - even with a court order.