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Privacy focused software - Robin Wils's website
Last modified: Sun, Dec 1, 2019
- What is privacy?
- Why does privacy matter?
- Basic tips
- Software types
- Social media
- Web browsing tips
- World maps
- Search engines
- Other recommendations
What is privacy?
Security, Privacy, Lock image By Mohamed Hassan - CC0 licensed.
You have a right on privacy. Privacy means that you have the control over your personal information.
Your personal information might be a lot more as you think. It is more as just your name or email. It can include your shopping behavior, the sites which you visit, medical info, full-time access to your microphone and a lot more.
Why does privacy matter?
Privacy means caring about others
Many don’t value privacy until they lose it. Caring about other people’s privacy means that you respect them.
Privacy creates trust. Trust is one of the most important elements of love. In other words share the love and give your users their privacy.
Two heart-printed stainless steel padlocks image By Ylanite Koppens - CC0 licensed.
My biggest reason to care is that I don’t find it respectful or ethical to deny the privacy of users. I care about privacy, since I think that others should have it. It is a right afterall.
I have nothing to hide
We wouldn’t have passwords if no one cared about privacy. In other words, feel free to make all your logins public if you don’t care about privacy. Don’t actually do this. It asks for trouble.
Privacy does not exist
Some might says that there is no such thing as privacy nowadays. The thing is, everything is breakable, but you can make it harder. People are less likely to break something which is not easy to break, since it is easier to break the thing which is easier to break.
Time matters, even for the people who attack other people their systems.
They already have all my data
Old database data can get removed and you change, so the info which they have might be irrelevant in the future. There is also a chance that some cybercriminals remove all that data. The GDPR law (Europe only) is also a thing now, so you have the right to be forgotten.
Shouldn’t you try to give others their privacy, even if they have your data? Supporting privacy tools makes them better. It makes life easier for the people who need privacy.
Not everyone is aware of privacy
The sad truth is that many companies spy on users, so that they can sell your personal data to others. Not only companies do this, some cybercriminals also post personal information which they find online.
Even your friends might share your personal data without being aware of it. Privacy usually requires small sacrifices, not everyone has the guts to make them. Convenience is extremely useful and making every sacrifice is almost, if not completely impossible.
Your choices are not everyone’s choices. A bit better is already a step in the right direction. Not everyone has to be an extreme privacy geek.
Remove things which you no longer useable
This means that attackers have less things to attack, which makes the chance on an attack a bit smaller.
Don’t trust everyone
Avoid websites which you don’t trust. Some dangerous websites are very good at pretending that they are not dangerous. Don’t download or trust every random thing that you read on the internet.
- Use a password or any other form of security (PIN, fingerprint,…) on every device.
- Use strong passwords and use a different password for every website.
I highly recommend KeepassXC (GPLv2 licensed) which is a password database. It generates all your passwords for you. You only have to remember one password so using it is very convenient.
Bitwarden (GPLv3 licensed) is another option if you prefer an online password database, but remember that online databases can get attacked by other people. You don’t have full-control over this.
Encryption is another layer of security. It is not bad to make everything a little bit more secure. I don’t use encryption on all my stuff, but I use it on much stuff. The disadvantage of encryption is that it can make your system a bit slower.
You can compare it to using a secret code to talk to someone. The other person has to know and decode the code to get the result. Encryption is that secret code.
Your system will have to do some math before it can access some file, since the file is not readable without decoding the secret code.
" Number six, any logged cleartext, forget it! Encrypt all your data, take those bytes off the record! "
– Dual Core (0x0A Hack Commandments)
Decide how far you want to go
Your online information can be used against you. Know what you post, and know that people might use it against you.
Decide how far you are willing to go for privacy. You can make your own choices. The privacy road is not always convenient. I recommend to at least try to understand why people care about privacy.
You might care more when something bad happens with your personal data. I hope that it does not, but it is better to be prepared.
The most popular types of software
There are many types of software and knowing a bit about these can learn you that you should or shouldn’t trust something.
This part of the article is about the different licenses that there are. These aren’t all the licenses. I tried to keep it simple and readable.
Closed source software
Close source, also know as proprietary software means that no one can read the code.
You might think that it helps for privacy, but it is actually the opposite. One line of code is enough to spy on people. More eyes on the code means that people find and fix the problems.
The method of encryption can be known, but those functions are so strong that most people don’t understand it and good methods are not easy to break. Some methods haven’t been broken yet. People who are great at math write those complex methods.
Open source software
Open source means that the source, in other words the code is readable for everyone. This is great, but many open source things also have downsides.
Open washing is a thing. That means promoting a product like everything is open, but it actually still contains closed source code. Companies like to do it.
Public domain software
Public domain software is open source and has no restrictions, so anyone can steal the code and sell it. This can be good, but keep in mind that anyone can steal your code.
No restrictions means that you can use it for any purpose. It is pretty awesome to see when a tool uses the public domain license (CC0).
Free or libre software is open source, but it has a different goal as open source software. The goal is to give the users of the program freedom.
Keep in mind that many people prefer that you don’t call it open source. The goal is different, and some people find this goal better as the one which open source has.
We don’t mean free as in gratis. This is a bit confusing some times. It is free as in freedom. People some times use the word libre to avoid this confusion. In other words, yes you can ask money for free software licensed things.
People can steal your code like public domain software, but only if they license it as free software.
Libre software has to respect four freedoms. This can make it a better option as open source if you care about privacy.
Many mail providers are closed source software which is why you probably should not trust them. There are not many email providers which are focused on privacy.
- Tutanota (GPLv3 licensed)
- Protonmail (MIT licensed)
- Cock.li - A server which is hosted by one person instead of a company. Use this at your own risk. Many sites block mailaddresses of this provider.
- Selfhost your email. This is meant for the people who have time and can afford it. It is definelty not always the easiest route.
There are a lot of clients which I could mention here. I personally just use my browser to check my email.
Claws mail, Evolution, Mutt (terminal only),…
The reason that I probably would not recommend the popular Mozilla Thunderbird client is that it is not GPL licensed. I don’t think that it uses a bad license, but there are GPL licensed alternatives.
PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) is something which you can use to encrypt your emails. It works with a web of trust.
I use Tutanota, so I use the method of encryption which they provide. I don’t often encrypt my emails, but I try to think what I send through email.
Email is not secure, never send passwords through email.
It is actually pretty funny that social media is in this list. People can find a ton of personal information on social media. You could try to stop using the most social media when you are a privacy fan.
The most popular social media services are known for not caring about privacy. Don’t put everything publicly on social media, since it is free information for data mining and cybercriminals. I also recommend removing your old posts. Information can be used against you.
Don’t trust that something is private on social media. They usually sell your personal data.
The most popular social media network which isn’t know for mining your personal data is probably the Fediverse.
It can do a lot, including video hosting (like YouTube) and image hosting (like Instagram). The possibilities of this network are huge.
Fediverse logo By Eukombos - CC0 licensed.
Fediverse things work with a thing called instances. You will have to pick an instance when you want to join it. Don’t worry though. You can still talk to other instances and it is not unusual to switch instance after a few months.
Some instances use Cloudflare. Cloudflare does not care about your privacy. I highly recommended to read my Cloudflare article if you aren’t aware of these problems.
- Similar to Twitter: Mastodon and Pleroma
- Similar to Facebook: Diaspora (Does not use the Fediverse)
- Similar to YouTube: PeerTube
- Similar to Instagram: Pixelfed
PeerTube does not have as much content as YouTube, but you can use Invidious if the videos which you like aren’t on PeerTube. Invidious has the same videos as YouTube.
Keep in mind that the Fediverse still has some problems. The way that it works is far from perfect.
IRC and XMPP are probably some of the better ones for privacy. Keep in mind that public IRC servers usually keep logs.
Be careful with what you say. Information can be used against you.
" Number three, never trust nobody! IRC is bad luck when you chat too much. "
– Dual Core (0x0A Hack Commandments)
I don’t recommend Matrix or Discord. They both use Cloudflare. Matrix can be selfhosted to solve the problem, but the official servers use Cloudflare, so you will indirectly tell others to keep using Cloudflare.
People compare a lot of browsers, but the privacy problems might be deeper. I think that there just isn’t enough competition.
Chromium based browsers have a lot of the browser market. I would avoid them. Support competition instead.
I do have browser engine idea. Feel free to check it out, if you also think that the currently browsers lack some privacy features and other features.
The Tor browser is one of the better privacy focused browsers out there, but I wouldn’t use it for everything. It a bit slow. It isn’t perfect either security wise, but it is better as many of the other options.
" Don’t bet your future on just a few tools. Even .onion sites can have leaks too. "
– Dual Core (0x0A Hack Commandments)
I use a browser, no really I use Abrowser. It is like GNU Icecat, but without the default extensions. The default extensions of GNU Icecat are a bit too much for me.
Firefox and Chromium problems
Mozilla Firefox uses Cloudflare for DNS, by default unless you use an older Firefox version. Chromium tracks you a lot, since it is from Google.
Google also does some great things for the community, but remember that they are an advertising company. They make the many of their money from their closed source advertising service, AdWords.
Tracking users helps them with recommending more personal advertisements, which might increase the amount of clicks on the ads.
Mozilla also did some good things for the community. I would pick Firefox over Chromium if I had to choose. Just know that both browsers have some privacy problems by defaul
Web browsing tips
Many browsers show the location of a link in the left bottom if you place your mouse on top of the link.
Some websites have malware on them. Don’t trust a site which has a ton of download buttons or a ton of ads and such. Just use your common sense and check if the site can be trusted.
Know what the attackers do
Some people are very good at hiding malware or/and stealing your personal information. It isn’t bad to take a look at the things which cybercriminals try to do.
Phishing is a thing that many still fall for. You can easily learn yourself how to detect many phishing attacks. Phishing is when an attacker sends you an email or something else which is supposed to look innocent, but it is harmful.
Defending yourself against attackers is a whole topic, so I suggest that you do your own research on the basics of defending yourself.
Don’t accept cookies
Cookies are small files which contain a bit of data. This data can be used to keep your preferences like the language and/or website theme you prefer.
Those harmless cookies aren’t the real problem. The real problems are the tracking cookies. Those cookies can store your behavior and other personal browsing data.
They might contain any of the following information:
- The links you click while using the website
- The amount of time you spend on a website
- The pages which you visit (a bit like your browsing history)
- Much more tracking data
The Europe GDPR law contains something so that people can’t collect personal data through cookies unless they have your permission. This is one of the reasons why you might see cookies pop-ups on websites. You can decline cookies and I recommend you to do so.
It is true that extensions make your browser fingerprint more unique if they interact with more as the browser UI.
Every browser has a fingerprint which can be used to track you. It is not easy to do something about this even the way in which you type defines a bit of your browser fingerprint.
Completely getting rid of a unique fingerprint can be impossible. There is always something which makes it unique unless you use the defaults of a browser. This is also why the Tor browser is pretty secure. Many people use it with the default settings.
You can defend yourself against the most common fingerprinting techniques. A canvas blocker add-on tries to defend you against fingerprinting attacks which are caused by the HTML5 canvas element.
I personally think that add-ons at least protect you from other dangers, so I think that you should use them. I have a page with add-ons which I recommend.
OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a service similar to Google maps.
Many browsers come with Google as the default search engine, but keep in mind that Google is an advertising company. They have to do tracking to make more money.
Some alternatives are startpage (couldn’t find the license) and searx (AGPL licensed). I switch search engine from time to time. I have used the above search engines, but it is not easy to pick one.
YaCy looks like a great option, but I haven’t tried it.
Most search engines are proprietary. Proprietary search engines: Bing, Qwant, DuckDuckGo (the core of DuckDuckGo is proprietary),…
Avoid phones or use a ROM like LineageOS and F-Droid as the app store if you need a phone. This might change in the future, the Librem 5 might become a good option.
Only use the features which you need when you decide to use a phone.
Phones collect a ton of personal info. You are the one that chooses your sacrifices though. A phone is an important device for many people.
Windows and OS X are proprietary, so you shouldn’t trust them. You can use them and many people depend on some specific tools.
Remember, it is a choice. You probably won’t convince someone to use something if you push them too hard. They can ask you questions about your system if they are interested.
The GNU+Linux and BSD operating systems are the alternatives to those operating systems. I would recommend Debian or Devuan for beginners. You can try those operating systems in a virtual machine.
I am not going to lie, these operating systems require some learning, but it is not that hard. I have no experience with BSD. BSD could be even harder to learn. but it probably has its own good points.
QubesOS looks security focused, but it looks resource heavy. I also really like what GuixSD is doing.
You can use a free (as in freedom) distro, but you have to be sure that you have drivers for everything. I want to recommend this to everyone, but the privacy sacrifice is too big for most people.
Look at the privacy focused movements, and don’t trust everything blindly. Some of these movements are the FSF, the EFF, defective by design,…
I could write more about this, but I wanted to stick to the basics. Feel free to contact me if you think that I missed something important. I have more articles which talk about privacy. Feel free to check them out.
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