Internet security is becoming an issue that more and more ‘regular’ people are becoming concerned about. Daily news stories about data hijacking, data mining, digital spying, and more have many wondering if they should start giving the way they protect their privacy online, and when making use of mobile devices, a little more thought. After all, if the Russians can allegedly manipulate something as innocent player profiles in Pokemon Go and even the IRS have been caught doing less than scrupulous things with your personal data doesn’t it make sense to become a little more vigilant about the way you safeguard personal information online? The obvious answer is yes.
But just how should you go about doing so? It is, as we discovered, actually easier said than done, at least for the ‘average’ web user. Can you really live without Google? Are you really ready to give up on the ease and convenience of Gmail? After a few weeks of testing here’s a look at some of the things we observed:
A More Secure Browser?
In a matter of just a few years, Google Chrome overtook both Internet Explorer and Firefox as the world’s most popular browser choice. However, an increasing number of concerns over the way Google is using the personal data mined from Chrome has some moving away from the admittedly fairly stable and easy to use offering. But what’s the best alternative? Firefox is still a great bet, as it’s nightly builds allow it to be a little more Chrome like than the revamped Edge browser from Microsoft, so the transition is not quite so jarring. Firefox also offers some great privacy extensions that Chrome does not, a list of which you should check out at the privacy watchdog site Privacy Tools.
Search without Spying?
Everyone, well, almost everyone, uses Google to search for information online these days. Sure, there is that odd nerd you know who still owns a Zune (remember them?) and uses Bing and you’ve heard your Grandma still uses Yahoo!, but for the rest of us ‘Googling it’ is practically second nature. But again, you know that the personal search data you generate is heavily tracked – you only have to look at the ads you are served to see that. But is there actually a workable alternative? We tried DuckDuckGo and found it to be clunky and the basic search results seemed severely lacking. And if Bing had ever been any good people would have warmed to it years ago. So Google it is then, but with one change. Try starting your search from an interface called Start Page. It makes use of Google search results, but it anonymizes those searches so the Big G can’t track you in the way they’d prefer.
To VPN or Not to VPN?
According to many experts, one of the best ways to protect your privacy online, whether you are a stay-at-home Mom, a Fortune 500 CEO, or a personal injury lawyer is to make use of a VPN. But with so many choices out there, which virtual private network solutions are really the best? You may have to experiment for yourself on this one, as speeds often vary according to location, but it’s safe to say that the slightly shady ‘free’ options are NOT a good idea, as research has shown that they collect an awful lot of private information themselves.
Giving Up on Gmail
Is it really possible to give up on Gmail? Yes, but be prepared for a bit of a jolt, especially as you are used, no doubt, to the fact that Google’s flagship email service is free. While there are many other free choices out there most are kind of awkward and lack some of the great features that Gmail admittedly offers (like that seemingly never ending storage.) The services we found that offered a decent experience in relation to Gmail were Proton Mail , which is hugely secure and has a great interface but costs $48 annually, and the still in beta Tutanota, which is not quite as pretty but is completely free.
In our quest for more secure browsing, there are some things we have yet to find a suitable replacement for. Breaking away from Facebook and Twitter is hard, and who can live without a little YouTube? However, we think we made a good start on our privacy journey and can recommend that you begin yours too, it’s not as hard as you might think.