With what’s happening in India, it almost feels like a return to the dark ages. With the government tracking people who are voicing opinions actively and the cyber cells of political parties bullying users online, it is imperative that people understand and start establishing basic online hygiene in order to have a more private life on the Internet, while also voicing their opinions.
Yesterday, a post by me, resonated online, so I will go the extra mile now, to make this public on our website elaborating a bit more.
· WhatsApp isn’t the private space it was envisioned as by its founders. No wonder, they aren’t part of the company anymore. In fact, Brian Acton has actually poured some of his billions he made from WhatsApp into Signal which is also based on the same protocol as WhatsApp but is fully private and doesn’t have any financial ties to a bemouth like Facebook which can buckle under government pressure for fear of losing its business or become ad-supported. If you’re looking for truly a private alternative, then the choice is a simple one between Telegram and Signal which are cross-platform. Apple’s iMessage is also great with Apple having a great track record with user privacy and security, but it works only with Apple’s galaxy of gadgets. `
· In this day and age, using a VPN is just good Internet hygiene. Yes, it will slow down your connection, but using a solid VPN is a must for truly private life on the world wide web. Apart from it unlocking content restricted in your country it can throw off people snooping you. Privacy is more important than speed in my books. I recommend using NordVPN which is one of the best VPN clients in the world right now.
· Facebook isn’t and should never be a source for your news. I will never preach what you should or should not read or view, but in your mind, you should have a couple of trusted sources and they should be bookmarked on your web browser. It’s better than you clicking on some random link from the Facebook newsfeed. Heck, even Google News is more reliable than the Facebook Newsfeed. Ideally, you should have some apps for your favourite new outlets installed on your phone.
· A good start to private life on the world wide web starts with a private browser that discourages tracking of things like cookies which are fed to advertisers, who can pop up content they want to sell to you. Brave browser which is based on the chromium engine like Google Chrome is brilliant and is available cross-platform. The new Safari browser on the Mac and iOS is superb too as it blocks tracking from many websites including Facebook. Chrome can’t be trusted as it is owned by Google which makes money from advertising. Opera is also a great option as it even includes a built-in VPN.
· Since WhatsApp is so widely used, it may be impossible for people to stop using it. However, what you can do is ignore WhatsApp forwards which are often an unreliable source of information. It’s similar to SMS which is now mostly used to spam users but for some reason, people tend to trust information shared via WhatsApp forwards which they shouldn’t.
In the case, the government blocks off access to the Internet, all messaging apps will be rendered useless, however, there is a solution. It is called Bridgefy which is an offline mesh-based peer-to-peer communication app that allows you to communicate with people near you. The interesting thing is that the more users it collects, its range increases. This means if everyone hops on to it, there could be a decentralised network which the government can’t touch. Needless to say, it is fully private and secure.
· The dependency on cloud storage solutions like Google Drive, DropBox, OneDrive should end, especially if you have some sensitive document which could be provocative. You should use local hard drives for such information and in any case, with the government shutting down access to the Internet in places like Assam and Kashmir, you’d be better off using local storage or a NAS server at best, for all needs. It should also be noted that with the government’s push for data localisation, any stuff on cloud storage services could come into the hands of the government.
· One of the worse things that the Internet and largely, Android has spawned is a habit of getting everything for free. It’s the people who have given rise to data harvesting apps and services. So, take a back seat and just pay for applications that you actually use and try not to use their free tiers as they leak data and more information about you.
· This freemium model has impacted the quality of journalism the most. Most online portals are ad-supported, but those ads track you and ironically, don’t even pay the media organisations enough but instead fill the coffers of Google and Facebook. As the distribution of content is so dependent on Facebook and Google, in turn, media organisations resort to clickbait content which is often produced by amateurs as they can’t afford to hire properly trained journalists. Instead, if people just started paying directly to media organisations, and show that they are willing to pay a small subscription fee, you’ll get access to quality, factually correct and insightful content.
· Start using more reliable passwords and stop depending on the password manager and generator of your browser unless it is based on a randomiser. Make sure there is at least one numerical and symbol in your password and try not to use something obvious like birthdays. In addition, whenever possible, don’t use Facebook or Google login for the sake of convenience. If you must use it, stick with Apple’s Sign in, which randomises your identity but an even better solution would be to just register yourself manually and sign in.
· In case your online opinions are attracting the ire of cyberbullies, be fearless while speaking out and try to screenshot everything, and perhaps post it online and call these bullies out.
· In case you’re trying to share information that you are recording from your phone, turn on the location, date and time tags so that its authenticity can be easily verified. That being said, location information should generally be turned off by default and it’s best to keep it that way when you’re trying to share information online in real-time.
· While considering your next purchase of a gadget, my recommendation for the privacy-conscious would be an iPhone and for a notebook, you’d do well to use Linux which is less susceptible to Windows or anything MacOS based. That being said, Linux isn’t exactly the most user-friendly operating system out there and if an iPhone is too expensive, then you should always look at Android One smartphones which just run stock Google software as they will be less averse to privacy issues. Nokia is the best vendor of Android One smartphones in India. And if you hate typing commands for installing simple things in Linux, then getting a MacBook would be logical.
And lastly, remember nothing is bulletproof, these are basic things that novices should know.
Originally published at https://warpcore.live on December 17, 2019.
Words by Sahil Mohan Gupta