A Checklist for Online Privacy, Security, and Sanity
Posted November 14, 2022
Internet applications have become so invasive at this point that the best way to protect yourself is to go entirely off the grid. I know people who have done this and part of me is jealous of this kind of life. And yet, it’s not very practical. What follows is what I would call a moderate guide to small things you can do to protect yourself to a great degree, without having to learn code or spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about it.
- Get control of your phone and desktop notifications
I’ve been sitting with technologically naive people who pick up their phones about every 10 minutes or so to look at them. Often, they change the topic of conversation over to some random piece of news about whatever.
Puzzling, right? We cannot have sustained conversations anymore? When I’ve politely inquired about what’s going on, they tell me that they are getting news on their phones. It’s CNN. It’s the NYT. It’s something. They don’t even know why they are arriving much less how to get rid of them.
What’s happening here is pretty simple. These people are letting big tech and big media control their brains and their lives. It’s very sad and creepy.
Notifications like this can be a bit tricky to manage but they can all be controlled. Go to your main settings applications and scroll down. Find the offending applications and open them up and turn them off. I found that people can sometimes be reluctant to do this because they fear being “out of touch.” It’s complete rubbish. You should only have one or two applications that can invade your lock screen, and those are ones with important personal contacts, not media companies.
- Change your browser.
When Chrome came out, it was light and secure, a huge improvement over Microsoft’s project. That changed over time. Now it is heavy, invasive, and the master of information sharing. It’s why your ad stream is so often connected to your browsing habits and the contents of your email. It’s my view that this should be deleted from your entire online experience if you can do it. The best browsers out there are Firefox and Brave. Apple’s Safari is very good too, as these things go, but not as good as Firefox and Brave.
Remember that you need to do this for your desktop, laptop, tablet, and your phone. None of these machines should be neglected. Yes, it takes a bit of time but it is worth the effort. That change alone will make a big difference.
- Change your search engine.
Google is the go-to for most online experiences. It still maintains a 92% control of internet searches, which is rather shocking given how skewed the results are and how much Google uses those results to drive your online experience. This really needs to stop immediately. Again, for all your machines (including even your phone), change your search choice to DuckDuckGo. If there are specific things you like about Google (books, scholar search, maps, and so on), you can always use the web version when you need it. But for everyday searches, you need a new default. Duck gives better results, is fast, and it doesn’t pillage your information for its industrial purposes.
- Change your communication tools.
The main calling applications installed on your phone are fine, but there are also reasons to regard them as sketchy. There are more secure and much better options that rely on internet access. They are free and they are gaining a large enough network to make them just as useful as the regular phone hookup.
There are two. My preference is Signal. Download both the desktop application and the phone application. Use your phone number. There is no privacy issue involved in letting the application share your existing contacts. You will be very impressed at the ease of use and the encryption on the application makes it nearly impenetrable.
A similar application is Telegram. It adds to private communication with more of a focus on groups and social sharing. Privacy is at a premium. The communication quality is extremely high. I personally have found the social aspect of the application to be a bit confusing, but maybe you will have more luck than I have had.
- Get another email address.
Over the long term, this might be the most important shift that you make: getting out of mainstream email like Gmail and Outlook. These seem secure for now but only the flick of a button could change that. Neither Google nor Microsoft promises anything at all in terms of privacy. In effect, these two tech giants own absolutely every bit of communication you type. Nothing prevents it from being pillaged.
I get that people are attached to their existing email, so you don’t have to make the change all at once. But is it worth it to spend $1 per month to have a secure alternative available? I would say absolutely yes. The best two alternatives, with hard-core encryption and privacy protection, are Protonmail and Posteo.net. The first is out of Switzerland and the second is from Germany. Both are just great.
Just knowing that you have one of them will grant you some peace of mind. In addition, Protonmail offers VPN services, which most people don’t believe they need now, but at some point, if things keep getting worse in terms of censorship and surveillance, everyone will need them.
Of Lesser Importance
- Don’t invest yourself in Youtube. It seems incredible to have to say this to anyone these days, but this platform cannot be trusted. You can have 10 million views and 1 million followers. Doesn’t matter. This Google-owned platform is utterly ruthless. There are much better platforms out there: Rumble and Odysee. There really is no reason to have to use Youtube. I would say the same about music streaming too. If you have a Google Home, it defaults to YouTube. You can change that on the application settings to Spotify or Amazon.
- Twitter is awful, so consider other alternatives. Many of my own friends have already been deleted and canceled by Twitter. Meanwhile, the value of Gettr and Gab keeps rising. They are very good.
- Delete or at least stop using Facebook and Facebook messenger. I know this is like telling smokers to stop or drinkers to go dry, but this company is a privacy disaster. No other way to put it. Fortunately, the decline and fall of Zuckerberg seems to be happening already.
- Get another news source. I don’t need to tell you that the news media is corrupt. There are exceptions, true, but mostly it has become pure propaganda. My go-to sources of information now are RealClearPolitics, RealClearMarkets, and The Epoch Times, which I just love because they report actual facts and try to tell the truth. Just one week of getting unhooked from CNN, the NYT, and so on, and using Epoch and you can tell the difference in your way of thinking.
- My final piece of advice to unplug from the beast: read books. That’s probably the most radical suggestion yet but the one that will make the biggest difference in your life. They can be digital, physical, or audio. The main point is to retrain your attention span away from the manipulation and brutalization that big tech has imposed on us.