Disclaimer: I am neither a researcher nor otherwise affiliated with institutions actually fighting for or providing internet-anonymity or privacy.I WILL throw around technical terms that may stray from actual definitions. Nonetheless I want to share my knowledge, assumptions and advice as a computer scientist.

Let’s get private

In the first post of my little “series” Get paranoid with me I gave some thoughts and assumptions about online privacy and made a case for protecting your online privacy. I want to now leave this theoretical realm and give actual advice and measures that are (not only by me) recommended and effective. I plan on progressing through my advice in levels, with this post covering the easiest measures that almost everybody should be able to take themselves.

Your choice of service matters

We use a lot of different software on services on a daily basis; they make our lifes easier or maybe are even essential for communication, transport or similar. And naturally, what services we rely on makes a grave difference. Especially Google proved to be almost essential, which is why we should strive to use it as little as possible. Google can know, with whom we correspond on what and when, where we go, what we buy, what we search and potentially so much more.

So here are, straight up, software and service choices, I can recommend:

  • DuckDuckGo as a search engine (you can easily switch the default search-engine in the settings of every browser)
  • Brave-Browser; your webbrowser is the door to everything you do in the internet; and you should not let your front-door unlocked
  • ProtonMail as your email-provider
  • ProtonCalendar as your calendar
  • StandardNotes for notes
  • OpenStreetMap instead of Google Maps
  • Signal as your messenger

General guidelines

This short list might cover some basics, but far from all our needs. Unfortunately there is no one solution, suiting everybody and covering everything. however here is some more general advice, when commiting yourself to a service:

  • Avoid Google; there is always plenty of alternatives for anything. Do not choose Google.
  • Do your homework! Do not just take my word, or anyones, for granted. Inform yourself before choosing your services. Evaluate if you really need this service in the first place and if so, explore the options you have.
  • If possible, use services (or apps), that are limited to offline use. If your data is “in the cloud” (meaning somebodies server), it is already potentially endangered.
  • Prefer OSS over proprietary software; OSS stands for Open-Source-Software, meaning software, which code is open to the public. That generally ensures that no shady stuff is being done, as the general public can (and does) have an eye on it.
  • Paid services are not bad; there is the saying “if a service is free, then the customer is the product”. It is quite self-explanatory, why paid services might have a bigger interest in keeping your data private and secure.
  • Do not use one-for-all accounts. Very often websites allow you to register or log in with, for instance, your Google-account. However convenient that might be, avoid it. Create a new account, use a throwaway-mail if necessary and rely on a password-manager if the amount of accounts on different websites becomes hard to manage.
  • Keep track of your accounts and services. Utilize a password-manager. This gives you an overview of what services you use, what mail-adresses are associated with it. Switching or quitting services is way easier this way.
  • Back-up important data. This ensures no data is lost, when your service-provider or you makes mistakes. And it also gives you the opportunity to easily quit a service and delete your data on there, because you know its safely backed up on your device.

This was just the beginning

From my point of view, these practical recommendations and behaviour guidelines cover just the first (nonetheless most crucial) basics. That means a few things: If you are seriously concerned about your privacy and this is new for you, there are a lot of important changes to make for your internet usage. Also, again, if you are serious about getting more private, this is only the beginning; so you should definitely take a look at the next blog-posts of this series, where i will share more difficult but also impactful privacy measures.