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 choosing 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/US)
- Qwant (French/German)
- Brave Search (US)
- xayn.com (German)
- Mojeek (British)
- Duckduckgo (US)
- Searx.me (meta search engine for the nerds)
- Givero (Danish. Focus on charity)
- Ecosia (German. Focus on tree planting)
- Metager.de/en (German)
- Hulbee (Swiss)
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 your Gmail, if you have that, as the tracking then not necessarily connects to your name.
Browsers and AdBlockers
In stead of using Chrome, there are browsers who by default blocks for tracking:
Once all browsers tracked you but today most don’t (just like the TOR browser, but it is not good on mobile). If you insist on using Chrome, you can block for tracking and ads (incognito mode is mainly deleting your web history). The tools block for third-party or marketing cookies – and for ads.
- uBlock Origin (not just uBlock) for Chrome
- The app AdblockPlus is best for mobile. It can also be used on the computer.
If you use Google Maps, here’s a great guide on how to not feed Google with all your data.
In stead of using Google Translate, this European translation service, which can also be used for free, is excellent, DeepL Translate.
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/US) 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.
- Telegram (Originally from Russia but now located in Dubai)
- Siilo (Dutch) – for health professionals
- Threema (German)
- Riot (UK and open source)
When you look for a VPN-service, chose one with headquarters in Europe (better privacy laws than China and US) and after which countries they have servers in. There are a lot to choose between. Here are some:
- F-Secure (Finland)
- ipredator (Sweden)
- ibvpn (Rumania) lots of servers
- Cyberghost (Rumania) lots of servers
Use secure and privacy-enhancing cloud-services instead of e.g. Dropbox. Here are some of them:
- Seafile (German)
- Hetzner.com (German)
- Nextcloud (open source, originally German)
- Cozy (French)
- Tresorit (Switzerland)
TOOLS FOR COOPERATION
Anonymous live tools for quizzing and voting without logging
Alternative video services to Google Hangout and also Zoom.
Alternative Video Platforms. YouTube is popular and okay for professional content, but here you are more in control of your data
- Garmin (US)
- Samsung (South Korean)
- 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) NB Don’t sign up with Facebook Connect and do install and Adblocker on you phone
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 in 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.
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 Chrome if you have to use this. See above. The best browsers are:
- Both Safari and Firefox (latest versions) block trackers by default and are fine to use.
- Brave(US) automatically blocks tracking and is fast.
- Vivaldi (Norwegian)
- 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.
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 Stalkface 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 behavior and used fake names for when you are not professional (even in fake names you should keep all stuff you consider private out).
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.
- As a minimum turn on the function that makes it impossible for someone to tag you without your approval. You find it under Settings – Timeline/Tagging under Review.
- In your Privacy settings you can chose that search engines e.g. Google, cannot find your Facebook profile you can also hide who you are friends with. The showing of your friends is pr. default public and reveals more about you than you might think.
- If you are up for it, it is a good idea to delete your likes. Unfortunately, every like has to be deleted individually (It is especially through Likes that Facebook earn their money).
- Finally, if you want to delete for Facebook profile here.
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 behavior 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
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.
Delete your digital footprints
It is never too late to get control over your 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 yourself, 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 aggressively 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 algorithm 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.
As European have a lot of right when it comes to your data, these rights do not exist in USA or China. The right to have a private life is a human right and with the new European data legislation GDPR (from May 2018) you have right to the following:
- To be informed when your personal data is being process
- To get access to the information that is being process
- To get incorrect data corrected
- To be forgotten – which means you have the right to have personal data deleted, as long as the company are not bound by other legislation to keep the information
- To portability – which means to take your data history with you in a useful format e.g. to a competing company
- To make objections to data analysis being done with your data
Who to trust?
To find out how to trust others always search for answers to following questions:
- How does the company earn money? Is it 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 stockholders’ money), a non-profit, family owned or government-owned company behind the product?
- Where is the company headquartered? We have better laws in Europe than in China and the US. And especially Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Norway are enforcing their privacy laws.
- Can you clearly 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 your data being sold to third parties? Or is 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 such as Ranking Digital Rights, TOSDR, TermsOfConditions, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Truspilot? And what happens when you search the company’s name plus ‘privacy.’
- Remember: A lot of companies are branding themselves as if they are on your side. They are ‘mission-driven’ and want to make the world a better place. Be aware of that – it might be pure bullshit.
- Turn off Wi-Fi 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 Yubikey.
It is important that you are visible digitally. Social media is good for pushing your professional identity, i.e. your job and job-related things, or if you have a professional thing you 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 businesspeople 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.
If you want to get even further, there’s more here: