“If you are not paying for a product, then you are the product,” is the saying that has become popular in the dawn of the Google and Facebook era.
Google services (Gmail, Docs, Android, etc.) are not free; you pay it with your privacy. Google mines your data (e.g., analyzes your emails) to serve you a more targeted advertisement. Essentially, they make you want to buy stuff you don’t need.
Facebook services (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, etc.) are not free; you pay for your privacy. Facebook mines your data (e.g., analyzes your private messages) to serve you a more targeted advertisement. Essentially, they make you want to buy stuff you don’t need.
“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” -Edward Snowden
In a nutshell, the revenue model of both these companies is very similar. On top of this, Google and Facebook are also curating the content for you. It’s important to understand that the Internet for you and me is very different. Google and Facebook are not providing you (or me) the objective truth of the world. Google searches and Facebook/Instagram feeds show me highly curated opinions based on my online persona, which their algorithms have created using my online behavior.
While Google and Facebook are such large entities that one could say they are ruling the Internet, there are good alternatives. Here is a list of alternative services that respect your privacy and offer your less moderated content on the Internet.
Better Alternatives to Google & Facebook Spheres
ProtonMail is a Swiss company offering an encrypted email service and no-logs VPN service. Their servers are deep under the Alps, and their guarantee they don’t collect any personal data (including VPN logs) from you and never give your data to any governments. ProtonMail offers a free account with limited capabilities, but I recommend using their paid services for better usability and supporting the cause. While ProtonMail’s user interface is not as polished as Google’s is, the service works as it should. I have been a happy customer for more than two years now. Besides newsletters and other spammy stuff, all my emails go to my ProtonMail-account.
ProtonMail Plus and ProtonVPN Plus costs $13 per month. That’s the price of one lunch (or even less) — a sound investment for keeping your email and browsing activity private.
Instead of using WhatsApp (especially after their latest T&C updates), you may want to change to Signal or Telegram. Both services offer a better user experience (in my opinion) than WhatsApp, and Telegram also includes Channel-feature and the ability to broadcast to large groups of people. Telegram has been widely used in Hong Kong during the demonstrations (read. riots) against China’s Communist Party. There are claims that Telegram is not open source and independently validated, but the founder of Telegram disagrees (read his statement here). I’m personally using only Telegram and Signal when it comes to IM apps.
Internet Browser: Brave Browser
Brave browser is based on Google’s open-source project Chromium. It looks like Chrome and uses the same extensions, but the Brave team has done an excellent job to create blockers that prevent websites from showing ads and using trackers on you. This results in a significantly faster and cleaner browsing experience, plus fewer data given to websites and, especially, to Big Tech. Brave has a built-in option for TOR browsing if you want to go all-in stealth mode. When you combine TOR browsing with ProtonVPN, you are 100% anonymous. Brave has created a BAT-token, a blockchain-based reward system that aims to replace advertisements for rewarding content creators. We will see whether it takes off or not, but the concept is nothing short of fascinating. I’ve been using Brave browser for a year now and won’t go back. Pages load much faster than on Chrome or Safari, and the experience is cleaner and calmer.
Online Search: DuckDuckGo
DuckDuckGo is a search engine that promises not to track you and serves you unbiased search results; if you and I use the same search query, we both get the same results — unlike on Google search. DuckDuckGo also prevents Google from tracking you after entering a website. You can test the difference using the same search query on Google and DuckDuckGo and compare the results. The difference is enormous. I still use Google search now and then, but 90% of my searches are on DuckDuckGo now.
Another option for Google is SwissCows.com, which pays attention to your privacy and has some other interesting elements to help you find more useful content.
ClearPhone, as they say, gives you your digital life back while blocking ads, trackers, hackers, and anything else you don’t want to see or your kids to see. It is based on Android (a Google’s open-source project) but stripped bare and built again with privacy-focus in mind. You can use Android apps just like on other Android phones, but ClearPhone keeps them secured from backdoors and trackers. Or at least they claim they do.
ClearPhone (and ClearFoundation behind the phone) looks very interesting. I haven’t personally tested their phone or read too much about the foundation, but it seems very promising. I’m eager to follow their development in the coming weeks, months, and years. Hopefully, they could shake up the Android/Apple duopoly and bring real privacy in the smartphone arena.
Domain registration: Njalla
Njalla is not a domain registration service, but a customer to them. They sit in-between you and registration services and act as a privacy shield for you. When you purchase a domain name through Njalla, they own it for you. However, the agreement between you and them grants you full usage rights to the domain. Whenever you want to, you can transfer the ownership to yourself or some other party.
Njalla also has a VPN service with strict privacy policies of Sweden and they accept payments via cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin, Monero, ZCash, DASH, Bitcoin Cash, and Ethereum.
While it seems that Facebook and Google encompass the entire website, there are real alternatives for their services. It takes some effort to learn new apps and habits, but your online life will be much better off once you’ve done it. No more unnecessary apps taking your focus on irrelevant matters. Websites load much faster. Your conversations are strictly private.
The only vote we have against the malevolent services is our attention. The less attention you give them, the less power (control, ad revenue) they have over you.
Are the apps/services suggested here valid, or do you know any issues with them we should be aware of? Do you know even better alternatives? Feel free to post them below.
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