Privacy is power: 10 ways to keep personal data out of Big Tech’s hands

Feb. 17, 2022

By Gianfranco Martinez
Staff Writer

Months ago, there had been a whistleblower on Facebook who had leaked company documents about conflicts of interest between the company and its users.

It comes as no surprise that the company had chosen to act in its own interests. People should reconsider using Facebook and other apps under its wing because this company does not value its users. Facebook is not the only culprit. Apple, Google, Microsoft and TikTok are all to blame.

Even if a user thinks they have nothing to hide, they should still be cautious in letting corporations use their data to increase their monetization and optimization. This basically strips users of their privacy. It is time to take a stand against this. Here are 10 steps you can take to preserve and protect your online privacy:

1. Stop using search engines like Bing, Google and Microsoft Edge. Google is the top offender when it comes to search engine tracking. Cut the wire by ending your use of Google. Instead, download Braver and DuckDuckGo. These two are open source and private browsers that help stop trackers you would get on Google. 

2. Uninstall Facebook and other apps in their family. Also, disable permissions for Google to share contacts, location, information contacts and messages. Apps like Apple, Chrome, Edge, Instagram and What’s App have access to background data and location to see what you look up on their sites. Therefore, stop using these social media outlets and delete them. This might seem difficult, but there are alternatives to it. For example, the app New Pipe Legacy is similar to YouTube. Tiktok isn’t innocent either. This app has been known for its tracking of users and censorship. If anything, block access to collection of personal data, history, location settings and microphone, and clear all cookies and website data.

3. Use private messengers like Matrix, Signal and Telegram. These block SMS (short text messages) from ISPs (internet service providers) and other people including the government. In addition to Big Tech seeing your data, it sees your calls and messages and so does your ISP. Use these messengers with friends to have end-to-end encryption when chatting. Signal is one of the private messengers that is easy to sign up for and use safely. Element, Matrix and Telegram all work the same way.

4. Use multiple private email sources. Outlook and GMail are not very private. Clearing data and cookies before signing up is an option for anonymity but aren’t hidden. Rather, you can use an end-to-end encrypted email service. I would suggest Tutanota because it is an end-to-end encrypted email service where you and another user can send emails to one another privately. As an alternative, one person can send it from Tutanota to a different email, and the person who sends it can make a password in which you and the receiver can only read the email. 

There are certain emails and so-called “private” sources which are referred to as “Honeypots,” which are used to collect data on you without you knowing and make you think you are anonymous. One of these would be Protonmail because Protonmail had given up to authorities one of its user’s IP (Internet Protocol), basically compromising their integrity and trust. 

5. Switch to Linux and for smartphone, us Graphene os & CalyxOS. If anything, when purchasing a computer to use for personal use or work, use Linux computers, which can help with privacy since none are connected to Apple, Google or Microsoft.

When purchasing a phone, I suggest getting Google Pixel 5. The catch is to download a private OS (operating system) called Graphene OS to help with privacy and grant strong security from Google, but to actually use this, the phone will need to have OEM unlocking, which is basically a part needed to actually work Graphene OS properly.  Most of the time, ISP will have it that OEM won’t work, so try finding one online with OEM unlocking. However, for Android users, I suggest CalyxOS and Lineage Os, which helps with all the spyware that would be on an average Android.

6. Don’t use a VPN, use TOR browser. A VPN does not make you completely anonymous online. A VPN basically would help to change the location of network traffic and the location of your computer, or IP for short. Well, don’t believe everything you see. Although there are some VPN providers that do work, that doesn’t mean you are Mr. Robot

Use Orbot and TOR. These are browsers that actually can anonymize your network traffic history and searches while hiding your location and preventing trackers. It is very easy to install both on Android and Google Pixel, but Apple makes it harder to install these, so there is a compromise. There is another one called OnionBrowser, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store for IOS. 

VPNs also only connect from your device to their servers. TOR uses randomization of its relays so no person sees or controls the internet traffic while a VPN is just the one company and one server you connect to. VPNs are still useful for accessing things your country restricts but are not solutions to staying private and anonymous.

7. Disable JavaScript. This function on browsers lets corporations collect data from searches and websites you use. JavaScript is a function used to collect data from your websites. Disabling JavaScript helps to stop any sort of Facebook code within a website that collects data on what you do.

8. Use more private WiFi connections like proxying your DNS (domain name system), a system used to identify computers and connect to the internet using a middleman. When signing on to the internet, it is best to hide your connections to the internet through the first party and use something like a middle man to hide your network traffic being sent from the internet. Use something like TOR, which sets your traffic through multiple locations across the world. Orbot moves all traffic the same as TOR with its VPN mode. The only problem is that the internet is pretty slow and CAPTCHA makes it hard to watch videos through it.

9. Use more open source password managers, and use very strong passwords that include letters, numbers and symbols. When trying to be more private, it is best to use separate accounts. Use one for personal, another for work, etcetera. Keeping track of each one is a hassle, so download an open source password messenger that stores and generates passwords for accounts. For beginners, I suggest BitWarden. Start with a free account for multiple logins to be protected and even a password to log in to the BitWarden account. You can also use a SIM card key for a second factor authentication on your phone to access it rather than an average PIN.

10. Do not open sketchy items or emails you know contain a scam. In addition, delete data on images when posting them. Whenever you come across weird notifications for emails and you have no clue who it is from, simply DON’T touch the link since it is an easy way for you to get scammed or hacked. Just delete anything sent to you and block that person.

By using all of the tips today, rest assured, you will have a private and secure life without having to think about who is watching what you do or secretly collecting data on you. For reference, here are a few people I have been watching to help guide me in preserving my privacy and anonymity: Mental Outlaw, Techlore and The Hated One

I hope with this, we can take a step forward in privacy and anonymity and finally break ties to Big Tech companies.

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