Yash Raj

Your privacy is at a greater compromise than ever before. Tech giants also called the big five promise to protect your data to entice you into their ecosystem.

They are omnipresent, according to a Forbes report by John Koetsier, Google tracks 86% of the top 50,000 websites on the planet. It's not only Google who wishes to get the largest chunk of your data but also companies like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft.

Be it from a code that your favorite game is using which is sending data to Facebook even if you don't have an account or any other app which uses a similar strategy.

90.4% of all the apps on Google Play Store and Apple App Store share data with a 3rd party service, out of which 35.3% apps share it with 10 or more 3rd party services as found in research conducted by the University of Oxford, UK.

The big five are tracking you everywhere, linking your activities to monetize even the slightest of areas available on your device. They follow you everywhere be it from communication, socializing, chatting, web browsing, web search to shopping, streaming, working, gaming, and any other means of your virtual life.

This ability to link two or more data points is the biggest menace to your privacy.  And to regain your digital privacy means to make it harder for anyone to connect these data points by cutting off links with the big five.

So, it's important that you use apps that only perform a single task and not anything else. Thus your email provider should only handle your e-mail and is not your search engine similarly your instant messaging app should only handle your messages and not be a social media app.

This is the best defense we have against data linkability.

Search:-

Let's start with the most basic and most significant way i.e search and browser because if tracked they can reveal a lot about your interests and your private moments.

If you are casually browsing the web and not doing any research work it is advised to use DuckDuckGo, Qwant, Startpage, or Searx. I use DuckDuckGo all the time and cross-check the results with Qwant and Startpage when researching on a topic.

Browser:-

Your browsing contour can reveal a lot about your behavior or spending pattern if you do most of your searches on Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft edge your searches can be tracked even if you use search engines like DuckDuckGo, so it's important to protect your search with a more privacy-focused browser. 

It is also important that you say goodbye to the habit of storing your browsing history and cache indefinitely the reason being, if you don't delete your browsing history, cache, and cookies websites like Facebook can still track you.

There are many browsers which promise to keep your search history clean and help you stay low profile, but its crucial that we only choose the right one fulfilling this criteria.

For normies, I would recommend Brave as it provides the most security out of the box and requires very liitle to no tweaks and is available crossplatform. It is built on Chromium thus all your Chrome extensions work with it.

But, if you are highly privacy-focused and want to make sure no one is snooping around then Tor Browser also famously known as Onion browser is the way to go. 

Tor gives you a fresh digital playground every time you connect to the tor network by giving you a new IP address every new session. It also ensures that none of your browsing history is stored once you close it.

Both Tor and Brave are available on Android, iOS and Desktop.

But if you are on the Android side of things a most secure and convenient browser would be Bromite over Brave as it is more security hardened out of the box  and does not require any extra tweaks. 

Presently it is not available on Google Play Store but can be downloaded from their official site bromite.org.

Social apps:-

While we are on the topic of browsers there is a new feature that is finally becoming mainstream that is Web apps or Progressive web apps (PWA's).

These are website versions of native mobile apps that can be run by your browser and installed on your home screen in addition to it they can function as standalone apps with notifications.

Unlike native apps, PWA's do not have access to your contacts, files or background location thus your data is better protected from already privacy-invasive social media apps.

All major social platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram now support PWA's and also all major browsers like Chrome, Firefox and Safari support PWA's functionality.

Instant Messaging:-

At present your instant messaging is mostly based around mainstream social media applications, however there are good messaging applications which take extra care to protect your meta-data like your contacts, timestamps, location etc.

The best and easiest of them is Signal. Which uses your mobile number for registration and is end to end encrypted, adding to this the servers do not store any meta-data once the message is delivered. The UI is clean and good looking like any other popular instant messaging app.

It is mostly used by privacy enthusiasts and all it takes to convert your friends and family to signal is a text message which you can send directly from Signal with a link to install it to their phone.

But, if you want total anonymity and have your connections cut-off from the internet then Briar has got you covered.

Briar uses both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to form a network mesh allowing you to send and receive messages. What's interesting about Briar is that if you are connecting to the internet it uses Tor's network for syncing your messages, providing you an extra layer of encryption and protecting it's users from surveillance. 

Adding to it Briar does not allow you to take screenshots unlike other instant messaging apps. This makes it one of the best instant messaging apps that works offline and protects you from getting intercepted. 

Presently it is only available on Android and can be downloaded from their official site briarproject.org.

Email:- 

Email is an essential part of your digital presence and keeping it secure and private is vital.

If you use Gmail or Outlook as your present email service, a better and more secure alternative would be Protonmail or Tutanota which unlike Gmail or Outlook are not run by a tech conglomerate and provides a better end to end encryption than its competitors. 

Both the email providers have excellent open-source mobile apps, they store all your emails encrypted, which means they are not reading it and also not sharing your sensitive data with advertisers or the government which cannot be told for any other mainstream email providers.

To maximize your privacy it's best to create a separate email account for different use cases. Have at least one for shopping, one which handles only your social media and one for personal communication

It is also recommended to have two separate email accounts for banking and work as a best practice.

Password Managers:-

You should also definitely avoid reusing the same passwords, at this point it can become hard to manage your passwords and you want to avoid the ecosystem trap, the best password managers presently are -

Bitwarden for normies which run on a freemium model thus if you are an individual or a 2 person team most of the services are free and you only need to pay for Enterprise solutions.

The other really good pasword manager is KeePassXC which is totally open source but is aimed towards a bit advanced users, thus there is a learning curve required.

Firewall:-

Isolating your security is necessary to keep it away from the big five and it is always recommended that you use an application firewall to enhance your security by blocking all unnecessary connections that are not required by the app and are only meant to send your data to the remote servers.

The best option here would be NetGuard which is a simple to use, open source firewall for Android and Lockdown for iOS and MAC.

Another area that is worth mentioning would is Cloud Storage.

There are a ton of options to choose from but the best choice here would be Nextcloud as a replacement to Google drive or any other mainstream cloud providing services.

The free version though gives you very little cloud storage when compared to any other mainstream cloud service but a point to be considered here is, if you are not paying for the service with money they will recover it with your data.

But if you are using Google drive or any other cloud service and is not possible to switch to Nextcloud then it's better to encrypt your data before uploading it to cloud.

Cryptomator does the job for you, it is a more easy and convenient way of encrypting your files, another more savvy yet doable solution would be VeraCrypt which offers extremely strong encryption and data security which is in control of your hand.

Ending it off with a Playstore alternative Fdroid which is a community-maintained software repository of free and open source apps, its is similar to Playstore but without any google stuff embedded into it. 

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