Piecing Together More Privacy
Privacy and security are closely tied in our digital world. Easy and complex ways to exist to protect or at least increase both. How and where you browse the web, your means of communication, and how you allow yourself to be tracked are areas of vulnerability that you can control, perhaps a little more than you are now. All of these options are free, and some offer paid upgrades. All accept donations.
Browsing the Web
The options here are many. Some are more cumbersome, and some are nearly invisible. Some on the list are redundant. If you have “accidentally” installed browser extension designed to help (aka hijack) your browsing experience, get rid of those first.
In 2016, Opera, that other web browser, began including integrated VPN (virtual private network). It’s not complete privacy, but as your request travels through the ether lots of the information is obscured. Most of us don’t need to hide what web sites we are visiting, and if you can hide it, why not? It’s my new default.
A VPN is a private tunnel through the internet. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to track the origin point of the tunnel, so your privacy is increased.
The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) offers an anti-tracking browser add-in called Privacy Badger. It keeps Amazon from knowing that you looked at plaid shoes at Zappos so that it can offer up plaid shoes.
Another browser add-in that looks for secure web connections, again from EFF. The S in HTTPS stands for security. “The HTTPS Everywhere extension fixes these problems [ducking out of security] by using clever technology to rewrite requests to these [unencrypted] sites to HTTPS.”
I have not tried Ghostery, and have heard good things about it. “Make informed decisions about the personal data you share with the trackers on the sites you visit.”
Text Messages (SMS)
If you own an iPhone and use iMessage, you have fairly robust privacy protection within the Apple ecosystem.
Signal for iOS and Android offers end-to-end encryption within its system. You have to give up some privacy to Signal by giving them access to your contacts. They use that information to let you know who else, by phone number, has Signal. “We cannot hear your conversations or see your messages, and no one else can either. Everything in Signal is always end-to-end encrypted, and painstakingly engineered in order to keep your communication safe.”
Signal also puts their privacy and security expertise in a system to make secure phone calls. Imagine that.
Email is a tough way to keep privacy. So many points of vulnerability exist that it’s difficult as an individual to know where to start and where to end in securing your communication. Again, most of your email could be shared with the world and it wouldn’t make a difference. And there are times that you may want secure, impenetrable email.
ProtonMail is designed to be a closed system that can interact with all email systems. Within the ProtonMail system (sending from a ProtonMail address to another ProtonMail address), communications are about as secure as they can get. “Because data is encrypted at all steps, the risk of message interception is largely eliminated.” Not even the folks at ProtonMail can get to your data. They designed it that way, including basing themselves in Switzerland with all the privacy advantages that offers.
“When you send an encrypted message to a non-ProtonMail user, they receive a link which loads the encrypted message onto their browser, which they can decrypt using a passphrase that you have shared with them. You can also send unencrypted messages to Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook and others, just like regular email.”
There’s some overhead with ProtonMail. Users must sign into their account and then use an additional password to get into their email.