Dan Arel | December 30, 2018
When I decided to launch ThinkPrivacy it was because I got tired of noticing that I would email a friend about a product, or do a quick Google search for something and then the next time I logged onto Facebook, I would be served an ad for that same thing. I started looking around the web and wateched a TED Talk by Glenn Greenwald, and something he said really stuck with me.
Over the last 16 months, as I’ve debated this issue around the world, every single time somebody has said to me, “I don’t really worry about invasions of privacy because I don’t have anything to hide.” I always say the same thing to them. I get out a pen, I write down my email address. I say, “Here’s my email address. What I want you to do when you get home is email me the passwords to all of your email accounts, not just the nice, respectable work one in your name, but all of them, because I want to be able to just troll through what it is you’re doing online, read what I want to read and publish whatever I find interesting. After all, if you’re not a bad person, if you’re doing nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide.” Not a single person has taken me up on that offer.
I found myself tired of knowing Google is letting developers look through the content of my emails or examining my searches to sell me things. I also know our government is tracking the activities of anyone they may find suspicious for any reason. I don’t trust them to follow the laws that would otherwise keep me secure from illegal search.
So I set out to become more private and that meant leaving Google and other “free” products and using encrypted, more secure alternatives.
So what I have I found? Well, I have spent the last year testing products and making decisions on what I would do, which in the end, I turned into ThinkPrivacy.io
The first, maybe the easiest step was changing my browser away from Google’s Chrome browser. I decided to go with Firefox because it seem to run faster and feel a bit more Chrome like, so the switch wouldn’t be so shocking. With Firefox account syncing options, it wasn’t hard to get my bookmarks synced across a few devices with ease.
I also installed some plugins, such as Ublock Origin to block ads and trackers along with Privacy Badger and HTTPS Everywhere.
Alternatively, I run Tor Browser, a Firefox fork if I want an even greater layer of privacy.
Who doesn’t use Google to find things? Sure, we all know that weird friend who uses Yahoo still, or that one guy who still owns a Zune who uses Bing, but Google has it all.
For my main day-to-day, I use DuckDuckGo. They don’t track or log my searches, and they provide results that I can use, unlike some other alternative search engines. However, if I am not getting results that are working for me, I can always turn to StartPage. StartPage anonymizes your searches through Google, so you still get the quality Google results without them seeing you, and without the ads. It easily integrates right into Firefox on desktop and mobile.
I used Google Talk when sitting inside Gmail on my laptop and Google Hangouts as well, and even Facebook Messanger fell into this category for me, even though that’s not Google.
Apart from the friends and family who just won’t stop using traditional text messaging, I use Signal for my chat app. I love that it has clients that are synced for me so I can carry on my conversations from my laptop to my phone with ease. While the hardest part about switching to Signal or any other chat app is getting people you chat with to use it to, once they do, it’s worth it.
This was the big piece of the puzzle. I have been on Gmail since they launched the first wave of invites. It’s a wonderful web based interface and a good mobile app. Replacing it wasn’t going to be easy. However, I do own my own domain(s), and figured it was time to use it.
There are a lot of good providers out there. If you’re looking for the most secure on the market, look no further than Proton Mail or Tutanota. Neither service allows IMAP or POP3 connections and because of this, using their web or mobile apps, they are able to store your emails 100% encryted.
If your threat model doesn’t call for something so secure, you can check out MailFence, Mailbox.org, or Soverin. All offer wonderfully easy to use services that offer much great protection and privacy than Gmail ever could.
I used Google Drive and Dropbox to store a lot of my files and even edit them online. Thankfull, I found Nextcloud and coupled that with the online version of LibreOffice called Collabora Office and with hosting from Digital Ocean I have my own cloud server and document editor up and running.
After all that, I found life to be a bit easier than I expected online. We all rely on Google for so much, and I thought it would be nearly impossible to remove them from my life but in the end have found it to be rather easy.
I hope this guide, and the rest of this site make moving away from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and other surveillance capitalist corporations all that easier.