10 Essential Privacy-Friendly Services

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This is a list of privacy-friendly apps and services. These services will help you avoid:

  • personal information being leaked / hacked
  • spying and surveillance
  • unwanted targeted advertisements

Search Engines

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The Problem: Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo record your web searches and link your web searches together.

Difficulty Level: Easy (change the search engine you use)

Cost: Free

You can use Disconnect Search which allows you to search privately on Google, Bing, Yahoo and others.

DuckDuckGo is another search engine with a focus on privacy. It’s not as comprehensive as Google, but it provides independent results.

Email

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The Problem: Gmail, MS Outlook and Yahoo Mail automatically scan your email.

Difficulty Level: Difficult (you’ll have to change your email provider)

Cost: Medium

You can use an independent email service like FastMail which doesn’t scan your messages. Based in Australia, the service has been running for 15 years, and they have a good privacy policy regarding email storage. Fastmail’s prices start at $20 per year.

MaskMe is a service that masks your personal email address, as well as your phone number and credit card information.

Cloud Storage

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The Problem: Dropbox and Google Drive do not encrypt your files.

Difficulty Level: Easy to Medium (you need to set up a new cloud service, and copy files to a new cloud)

Cost: Medium

It doesn’t make sense to store unencrypted files on a server. It makes them available to company employees and potential hackers.

I recommend SpiderOak — it is a “zero-knowledge” cloud provider  — all the files you upload to their “cloud” are encrypted before they leave your computer. This means the company never has access to your encryption keys. The price of the service is $10 per month.

Update: SpiderOak is encrypted but it is a closed source project. Seafile is an open-source cloud storage solution — it encrypts your files before they are sent from your computer.

Social Networking

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The Problem: The large social networks take ownership of your content, and serve you advertising based on your activities. They also routinely censor content and change their privacy policies.

Difficulty Level: Easy – Difficult (you’ll need to transition to a new social network)

Cost: Medium

Diaspora* is a free open source social network. It’s a community-run distributed network so there’s many  installations or “pods”. Here’s a  list of pods — I recommend the socializer.cc pod.

Glassboard allows you to create private social networks. Inside your private network you can share messages, comments, photos, videos and files. Glassboard has apps for the iPhone/iPad, Android devices, and the web. A free account allows you to create up to three “boards” with 100MB of storage per board. The cost of a premium account is $24.99 per year.

Web Browsers

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The Problem: Web browsers like Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Safari are not privacy-friendly.

Difficulty Level: Medium (change your web browser, and install add-ons)

Cost: Free

Use a secure web browser like Firefox with privacy-mode turned on, and these add-ons installed: HTTPs Everywhere, Adblock Plus and Privacy Badger.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)

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The Problem: Your ISP can monitor your online activities.

Difficulty Level: Medium (buy and install a VPN router or VPN app)

Cost: Medium

ExpressVPN is a virtual private network (VPN) service that is fast and reliable. It’s my top pick for a VPN (see more details here). Prices are $58 per year, or $9 per month.

FlashRouters sells pre-configured VPN routers. A VPN router will provide VPN connections for all your computers and mobile devices.

Instant Messaging

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The Problem: Your text messages are not encrypted and may be recorded.

Difficulty Level: Medium (you’ll need to install and learn a new messaging app)

Cost: Free

Wickr is a free app (iPhone and Android) that allows you to send self-destructing, private messages to your friends. You can send text messages, video and audio messages.

ChatSecure is another free app (iPhone and Android) that provides secure text message.

Computers and Operating Systems

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The Problem: Proprietary operating systems are not privacy-friendly. Linux is free and isn’t designed to accommodate corporate agendas.

Difficulty Level: Difficult (you’ll have to learn a new operating system, and you may also need to buy a new computer)

Cost: Low

Linux can now replace OS X and Windows, even for novice users.

Kubuntu and Elementary OS are Linux distributions that are easy-to-use and sport attractive user interfaces.

ThinkPenguin sells desktop and laptop computers that come with a Linux flavor pre-installed and pre-configured.

Mobile Devices

The Blackphone

The Problem: Most mobile devices are insecure and wedded to their parent companies.

Difficulty Level: Difficult (you may need to buy or jailbreak a new device, and learn to use it)

Cost: High

You could be using a device built with your privacy and security in mind.

The Blackphone is a privacy-friendly smart phone produced by Silent Circle. The phone features encrypted phone service, secure messaging and many other security-oriented features. It sells for $629.

You can also “jailbreak” an Android device, and replace the OS with Replicant (a free Android distribution) or CyanogenMod.

More Information

Note that this is a condensed list — you can read about more options in my privacy road-map.

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