Internet Purification Practices

Privacy is using bathroom with closed doors, but security is not revealing what you are doing inside.

I was really concerned with the dubious policies of internet companies on our terms of use for their free services form a long time. But, recent exposure of Cambridge Analytica for exploiting users’ data from Facebook to develop psychological profile on users for political agenda and gain during 2016 election campaign in US have really motivated me to completely examine my stature on internet, and how safe I actually am. This has led me to discover some really scary company policies and practices that endanger my privacy and security on internet.

Data recorded by companies:

To completely check what Facebook has recorded about me, I first downloaded my user data archive, which anyone can for their own account. This data itself revealed a lot more than I can ever think of. The data was from an account that I used for 2 years, and it revealed things like timeline history, contacts, personal info, login history, photos, location and private messages. And to be completely honest, I didn’t even knew if some of them ever existed!

Of all these details, messages are the most privates ones, which Facebook have on me. My messages revealed some pretty nasty things which I thought were private and was only sent to the person I was chatting with. These messages are stored on Facebook’s data centers in form of text, images, emojis and videos as well. I regret sending some of those messages, and even if I want to delete them now, I cannot! In fact, Facebook use private messages to personalize ads and send endorsement to your friends. Other fine details like location, contacts and login history can be used to track your location, mood and relatives.

Data recorded without your consent:

These details are what Facebook have on you officially and share them with you. But then think of the data they have on you that are hidden. Facebook sell your officially recorded data and others to third party apps and services without any limitations. Even if you prevent Facebook to reveal your data to third parties, they will still have your data through your friends. I have only talked about Facebook for now, but all of us have account on other ginormous internet companies that store many folds amount of unreported data, and they increase as we use more of their free services.

Free is a Myth

Nothing comes for absolutely free. When using free services on internet, we are paying with our privacy and most importantly security. Security and Privacy are not same. Privacy is using bathroom with door closed, but security is not revealing what you are doing inside. People seems to underestimate the later because many of us do not completely understand it. And by undermining our security anywhere, we are giving up our rights.

If you are aware about the issue now that I am concerned with, you will either do two things. First, protest about it, make #deleteXYZ hashtag trending, talk about it and eventually forget about it! Or Second, you will find solution for getting back your side of pure and free internet, which everyone should do.

I have come up with my own solution, which I want to share with everyone. Certainly, this solution cannot stop companies from tracking you 100% of the time, also, you cannot stop using their services immediately because a huge part of your life depends on them. So I suggest, start practicing them and eventually switch to more pure internet in future.

Internet Purification Practices

CAUTION: It is going to be tough.

Step 1: Begin analyzing with what they already have on you: Every big social media platform, websites, services logs details about you. You can download them by going to your account settings. Download the archive and analyze how much of you is actually recorded.

Step 2: Revoke access of third party apps from Twitter, Facebook, Google etc. There are a lot of apps that you do not need but are still in possession of your data. You can revoke their access by going in security setting and apps section, it may be possible you can never login back to your apps again so add an email before revoking. Say goodbye to 0Auth, and say hi to email logins.

Step 3: Get rid of free unsecure email services: Our most important data are streamed via our emails. Gmail being the favourite client, receive tons of data by scanning emails of about a billion accounts each month. And other free email clients like outlook, yahoo, Aol etc. does the same. Get an encrypted email account like protonmail, tutamail etc. Some of them even provide limited free services, which are actually free of trackers.

Step 4: Remove your original information from social media: If possible, remove your original display data like full name, picture, date of birth, location, timezone, address etc. Also, stop others to tag you in their photos.

Step 5: Get Anonymous: By this I mean, start using VPN to browse internet. Usually Tor is the way to go, but you can buy private VPN. VPNs hide your IP address so that companies cannot track your activities or get any associated information.

Step 6: Say goodbye to your favourite social media platforms: This is hardest, but still I am not asking you to permanently delete your account, even though you should. Even if you don’t want to delete them, reduce activities on them. Good old RSS is best even if you want to get news from your favourite platform.

Step 7: Use free and open source softwares: Use softwares that are released under open source license or GPL. These softwares can be audited and modified by anyone, which drastically ensures security of your data.

Step 8: Buy paperbacks instead of Ebooks: Read about this here.

Step 9: Prefer using Tunnels, VPN or Tor for sensitive browsing.

Step 10: Prefer Firefox over Google Chrome: Firefox gurantees higher level privacy than Google Chrome, although its no harm in keeping both the browser on your machine.

Step 11: Use DuckDuckGo or Google with VPN.

Step 12: Clear caches and cookies periodically from your browsers.

Step 13: More things: Use Firefox & Orbot on Android, Firefox & Onion browser on iOS, install blockers extension if possible and stop saving your passwords in browsers and start remembering them.

Its hard, thats why you should start initially with practicing them on separate machine/OS and slowly transfer to your main workplace. Also, things can coexist, we all are so much into these technologies that it is hard for us to switch to completely new kind of network where we cannot connect to people on old network. So use this new internet at your own level of ease, at least these will be helpful during the time of need.

At the end, you are the one who decide how much security you want for yourself. If these practices don’t satisfy you or feels too much, try changing them to create your own solutions.

Thanks for reading.

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Amrit Pandey

I like to write occasionally on whatever I feel. Tech and Self-Awareness strikes me the most.