As we head into 2021, an increasing number of people are taking back the data they once freely shared. It is becoming apparent that data, now the most valuable commodity on earth, is fuelling the rise of surveillance capitalism, an economic system that commodifies individuals’ data, such as browsing habits.
While we still may have to wait a while before tech giants face a reckoning of sorts, there is a movement underway, one where internet users stop trading data in return for convenience. If you’d like to do the same and boost your overall digital privacy – or for no other reason than avoiding pesky targeted ads – there are several tools that can help.
Here are some of the software programs and services you need in 2021 to stay private.
1. Messaging – Signal
Think WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption is enough to keep you protected? Think again, the service has been mired in numerous privacy scandals, including the indexing of private group conversation members to Google. Not to mention its links to Facebook, which is notorious when it comes to poor privacy standards – remember Cambridge Analytica?
Instead, switch to a messenger client that actually cares about security and privacy, such as Signal. The service is recognized by security experts as the most well encrypted and dedicated to upholding high privacy standards. Additionally, the code is fully open source, so testers can continually seek any vulnerabilities and issues.
Signal has proven that it walks the talk; in 2016 the company was subpoenaed by a Virginia Grand jury, but as Signal is designed to not retain data, it had little to show the authorities.
2. Private Browsing – ExpressVPN
It’s safe to say that Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are having their moment in the sun, and probably will be for some time. These handy services perform multiple functions simultaneously, including making a private browsing network for you, encrypting your traffic and therefore any data transmissions you make, and allowing you to mask your true IP address, and geographic location.
ExpressVPN offers apps for iOS, Android, Mac, and PC, it also produces VPN routers so an entire network of connected devices and internet of things (IoT) objects are covered.
According to PCMag, ExpressVPN’s “dedication to privacy is impressive”, and the company does not store to sell any user data, a known issue with many VPN companies, especially those offering a completely “free” subscription. Remember, if it’s free, there’s a very high chance that your data is the product.
3. Stop Cookies – Firefox
Not the delicious edible kind, but the kind that uses your browsing data to slam you with targeted adverts or to pass your data points to third parties.
Most of the time, cookies are helpful, they mean you don’t have to enter credit card information every time you shop online, or fill in log-in details for sites you frequent often. But not all cookies are made equal. Some exist purely to track you.
The problem is big enough that Mozilla has blocked cookies on its Firefox browser, and even Google has said it will phase out cookies in Chrome – we’ll leave you to decide whether you believe Google’s statement or not, we have doubts.
One way to avoid third-party cookies watching what you do and the sites you visit is to constantly clear your browsing data by emptying your cache. Another is to switch to a browser with a proven dedication to privacy, such as Firefox.
A non-profit company, Mozilla has some serious privacy credentials up its sleeve, and its Firefox browser is user-friendly too. Bye, Google.
It doesn’t take a lot of time and effort to stop handing over so many data points and fuelling surveillance capitalism, get the three tools above and you’re well on your way to more private and secure internet use.