9 internet privacy tools that help you hide from ‘Big Brother’
Everything you do on the internet is under constant scrutiny. Each site you visit, the emails you send and receive, the videos you watch, and the things you buy are all recorded by multiple entities for their benefit, monetary, or otherwise. And it's not just companies that track your web activity for advertising purposes, even the world's governments (with those of the US and the UK being the most notable ones) have been slyly collecting communication data from their own citizens in the name of ‘national security’.
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Subsequently, the need for web privacy is of paramount importance in today's world. No one — whether it's a hacker, a company like Google, or a government agency like the NSA — has the right to invade internet users' privacy. But this digital surveillance been happening for a long while and will continue to do so besides all the efforts to end it. To ensure that you don't fall prey to it, here are a few privacy tools that you should use to beef up your security on the web.
ProtonMail is an ‘easy-to-use secure email service with built-in end-to-end encryption and state of the art security features’. Created by a group from CERN, ProtonMail employs user authentication protocols that are so rigorous that no one, not even the creators, can read users’ emails. Also, ProtonMail's servers are located in Switzerland — housed under one kilometre of solid rock — which makes them physically and legally (Swiss privacy laws are among the strictest in the world) protected from any threat.
A messaging app with voice and video calling abilities similar to WhatsApp, Signal uses a highly rated end-to-end encryption to secure its users' communications. The app's functionality is unhindered by the stringent privacy protocols it employs — users can send disappearing messages, conduct group chats, send audio clips, videos, images, et al just like they would on a conventional messaging app. As the app's slogan justly says, ‘Privacy is possible, Signal makes it easy.’
The Onion Router (Tor) may have gained notoriety as the gateway to the 'dark web', but when it comes to privacy, it can't be bested by any other web browser. The free software conceals a user's location and internet usage information by routing traffic through a worldwide, volunteer network of relays — this prevents entities from tracing online behaviour, whether its website visits, online posts, or instant messages, to a particular user. This makes it the bowser of choice for journalists, whistle-blowers, and activists from countries which restrict free speech. Of course, users need to exercise caution while using Tor as they might end up on one of the many disturbing sites scattered across the deep web.
This Linux-based operating system rose to fame after Edward Snowden touted it as one of the tools that helped him evade the NSA. Tails is a live operating system that can be loaded onto a USB drive, DVD, or SD card. One can then run it on any computer by simply plugging in the device. This OS maintains users' privacy and anonymity while using the internet and it comes pre-loaded with a host of cryptographic tools that can encrypt your files, emails and instant messaging. It also leaves no trace of its use in the computer unless asked.
Google's largest revenue share comes from its advertising business and as such it gathers troves of data from users to improve its ad network. DuckDuckGo, on the other hand, is a ‘search engine that doesn't track you’. It doesn't store personal information and it doesn't advertise, at all. DuckDuckGo shows all its users the same search results for a given search term — there is no targeting users based on their browsing behaviour or history. And, it also curates information from acclaimed sources to ensure accuracy.
This company creates ‘No Knowledge’ secure-by-default products that guarantee its users the highest level of privacy and security. They offer softwares for individuals, small businesses, and enterprises. For individuals, there are three products: a cloud storage provider named SpiderOak One, a group chat and file-sharing system named Semaphor, and a private password manager named Encryptr. All their softwares feature the highest grade of end-to-end encryption which makes it impossible for anyone to gain access to their users' data. And despite being completely free, the SpiderOak suite of products features a clean and appealing UI/UX.
A browser extension co-created by the Tor Project and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (an international non-profit digital rights group), HTTPS Everywhere automatically switches sites from unsecure ‘http’ to secure ‘https’. The open source tool protects its users from many forms of surveillance, account hijacking, and censorship by encrypting your computer's communications with the sites' servers.
Virtual Proxy Networks
Virtual Proxy Networks (VPNs) are gaining rapid popularity for their functionality and ease-of-use. A VPN is essentially an online firewall — it allows users to access data on private servers without either the data, or their identity (IP address and location), being compromised. With a VPN enabled, internet users can visit sites that have been blocked in their countries, or view geo-restricted content on sites like YouTube. VPNs are extremely simple to set-up and use and there's a ton of free ones available for use.
How anyone is able to go online without an ad-blocker installed on their browser is beyond me. If you are one of the inscrutable people who haven't yet felt the need to make your life online easier, here's another reason for using ad-blockers: ads, specifically display ads with active content, install a number of cookies on your computer and they can also be used to attack your web browser. So, by using an ad-blocker, you're making your browsing experience both nicer and safer in one go.
This brings us to the end of the list. One thing you should keep in mind is that logging into any site (through Facebook, Google, Twitter, or the site's own platform) negates a number of protective security measures you may have employed.