When we started using free apps, products, and services online, we exchanged (maybe “sold” is the right word here) our private information and personal data. Most of us know this by now.
By selling our personal information, we didn’t only buy free apps, products, and services, we also bought convenience.
And then, slowly & gradually, this model of buying & selling has become commercial. Monetizing personal information became the new norm in the online world. Everyone in the online industry realized that getting the money out from people’s pockets is so damn difficult. But, we are ready to sell (unknowingly) our private & personal information in exchange for free products and services.
This commercial model grew and matured so much that people like Edward Snowden, whistle-blowers, activists, and privacy-advocates became too concerned. The model of monetizing personal information was gone beyond the ethical means of doing the business.
If you are still not concerned, I would suggest watching the movie Snowden (2016).
Take a look at just a glimpse for now:
I became paranoid about my privacy only after watching this movie. I still get too emotional whenever I watch this movie. I was mentally disturbed for a few days and I couldn’t sleep for a few nights.
He is considered a traitor for what he has done. I’m nobody to comment, but I respect him because of his exceptional courage of disclosing what he felt was wrong/unethical. Nobody wants to jeopardize his/her own life for the rest of life. But, he did. You will be able to understand his state of mind only after watching this movie.
“I don’t want to live in a world where everything I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity and love or friendship is recorded.” — Edward Snowden
Believe me or not, 100% privacy is gone for the common public. I can debate, I can argue and I can fight, but taking your 100% privacy back is beyond possibilities now.
It all started for me only after watching the movie Snowden. First of all, I started taking back control of my life, to whatever extent it was possible for me. I also started spreading the word in my circle of friends and family.
I also realized that most of the people in the world are unaware of the consequences. Words about Online Privacy need to be spread everywhere, just like we would do to sell any product. We need to market and promote this on by all means possible including social media. Why not use the power of the Internet for some good cause. That’s when I decided to create my website DigitalPrivacyWise in 2017–18. I write about privacy as and when I get the time and try my best to spread the word.
Do we need to be paranoid about Online Privacy?
Read this section (yes, only this section) till the end and let me know your answer in the comments.
The definition of privacy itself is subjective. It has different meanings for different people. I may not feel comfortable kissing my other half in public, but for some people, it comes naturally.
So you need to decide for yourself, what is private for you. What you feel comfortable sharing with the public.
You should consider anything you share on the internet as public. Even though you are sharing it with your friends only in a private message, it is public content. How come?
Well, let’s take an example of Facebook.
Facebook is not your friend. Right? A few people on Facebook are your friends, but not Facebook.
Whenever you want to share something with your friends, you are sharing it with Facebook to share it with your friend. Facebook, acting as a postman, passing on this message to your friend. Just like a postcard, Facebook can read everything (and can do whatever it wants with this information).
So knowingly or unknowingly you made Facebook your unwanted friend as soon as you created the account on Facebook. Then you started sharing everything with Facebook directly and with your friends indirectly (via Facebook).
This is the case today with every app, product, or service you are using starting from your email apps to smart TV, Fridge, or even the heating control system like Google Nest.
Both Google, Facebook, and a lot of other apps/websites are far far away from Privacy by Design principles.
Google has started taking control of our lives without us realizing it. Google started acquiring the companies having the data, which Google didn’t have or can’t collect on its own. That’s when Google bought Fitbit.
They needed our biometric information, so they created a feature to unlock our phone with Fingerprints and Face IDs. They needed our voice data, so they came up with the idea of smart speakers we can talk to e.g. Amazon Alexa. They call it smart and we love it. In the end, every smart device is collecting data about you.
In the earlier days, at least unknowingly, selling our information was free. But, now we pay to purchase a device which allows them to collect information about our voice pattern.
Artificial Intelligence can’t work unless it is backed up by a humongous amount of data in the background. We are willingly telling these companies to go ahead and collect it from us and make advancements into the field of Artificial Intelligence so that they can control our lives more than ever before.
Well, what I just described above, it is this feeling which is called paranoia. You need to decide for yourself if you need to be paranoid about your online privacy.
However, as we all know, the world is not that bad. It is just that every coin has two sides. There will always be good people and bad people. Bad people will always try to exploit good things or good people for their benefits.
We just need to be vigilant enough to make an educated guess and take the calculated risk to be able to differentiate between good and bad.
I’m not against the government collecting this information to provide us required safety and security. I’m also not against these companies collecting this information to provide a personalized experience. I’m only against the collection by mischievous means and misuse without our consent.
So, what exactly we should do to protect it?
We can’t control everything, but we can try to control whatever we can. The motto of my private life in the online world is very simple:
Be aware. Become wiser.
Below is the list of 101 points of action you can follow and implement in your online life. You don’t need to implement everything, but you can make an effort to achieve as many pointers as you can. The more points you can cover, the more private your online life can be.
Disclaimer: None of the links are affiliate links and I’m not associated with any of these products or services. The recommendations provided below are completely based on personal use and experience over a period.
- Follow Zero Trust Policy — Don’t trust emails even if they come from your friends.
- Don’t click on any link in an email unless that email comes from a trusted source and you are expecting that email.
- Use VPN Service always on all your devices connected to the Internet. Install VPN service on your wi-fi router to protect your smart home devices as well.
- Don’t use free VPN services.
- It is better to use Linux OS. But, if you can’t then use Apple or Microsoft Windows as the OS of your choice. Don’t by Chromebooks.
- Use O&O ShutUp10 to configure privacy settings on your Windows 10 OS.
- Always use anti-virus software. Please don’t use free anti-virus software.
- Use the Brave browser and nothing else to surf the internet on all your devices.
- Always block 3rd party cookies and all device fingerprinting in Brave browser settings.
- Create at least two identities and email ids. One for government and financial institutions and another for everything else.
- User HTTPS Everywhere browser extension to always surf the internet securely. Don’t visit the websites or links, which are blocked by HTTPS Everywhere.
- Encrypt everything end-to-end wherever possible. If you are using MacBook then data on your hard-disk is already encrypted. Use BitLocker in Windows 10.
- You should stop using pen drives, but if you have to, encrypt them as well. Keep the data on the cloud as much as possible (but encrypted).
- Use Boxcryptor for all your cloud drives storage.
- Get rid of traditional email service providers. They were never meant to be private. Use ProtonMail.
- Never use android devices including Android phones. Your only choice can be Apple iPhones.
- Get rid of everything Google.
- Don’t use any social media platforms unless you are a business. Believe me, you don’t need them. Follow the rule of 21-days to change your habit and 90 days to change your lifestyle. You will be fine.
- Never use the same password on multiple websites. Always use Password Managers. You can use LastPass (recommended), 1Password, or Dashlane.
- Always use Two-step Verification or Two-factor Authentication.
- Use Diceware to create the master password for the Password Manager of your choice. The above link for the diceware password generator is provided by easy reference. However, you should try to avoid any online password generators. Use the real dice instead. More information is here and here.
- Don’t use biometric features on your devices including Face ID and Fingerprints.
- Stay away from wearable devices. If you can’t, use Apple Watch only.
- Don’t use Smart Speakers e.g. Amazon Alexa, Hey Siri, or Hey Google. In fact, try to avoid using any smart devices where possible.
This is the best I could do to list down the bare-minimum low-complexity choices you have to make your online life more private. I will keep on updating this list time-to-time as I keep on researching.
A few things on this list might be a little complex for some of you to understand and use. Feel free to contact me and I will help you for free.
I wish you a happy private life!!!