Sam Cook

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Improve Your Digital Privacy #

I believe privacy is a fundamental human right because – just like lack of food, clothing or shelter – lack of privacy puts real people in real danger.

How so? Well, countless individuals across the world are put in real danger when their personal details are shared or leaked online, including victims of sexual violence and harassment, domestic abuse, stalkers, identity theft, financial and credit fraud, violent mobs and more.

I implore you to start taking your own personal privacy and security seriously, especially online. Even if you think you have nothing to hide, you never know when you will fall into one of the categories listed above.

Here are a few things you should look into doing if you aren't already:

  • Use an open source password manager, and use it religiously (I recommend KeePass or BitWarden).
  • Use an end-to-end encrypted email service, such as ProtonMail.
  • Use email forwarding/masking services wherever possible and appropriate (SimpleLogin works well for this, as does using a custom domain with "catch-all" turned on).
  • Activate multi-factor authentication (MFA) on all of your online accounts where it's available (and leave any important or sensitive services that don't offer it). Favor hardware keys (e.g., YubiKeys) over software tokens (e.g., Authy), and favor software tokens over SMS. If SMS is all that's available, that's still better than no MFA at all.
  • Get a post office box or similar mail collection/forwarding service, and be very careful about giving out your real address online (or IRL for that matter).
  • Get off social media. Alternatively, if that's too big a pill, at least enable as many privacy-friendly settings as are available for your social media accounts (e.g., turn off location services and personalized ads), and do a periodic audit of your social media presence. And, obviously, always be careful what you post (e.g., don't post a picture that includes a street sign or license plate in the background, use a fake birthday, etc.).
  • Get a VPN and use it properly. Make sure the "kill switch" setting is enabled at all times. ProtonVPN is good.
  • Do a periodic audit of all your online accounts (email, cloud, financial, entertainment, social, shopping, etc.). Keep a list, but don't keep it in a cloud account unless it's end-to-end encrypted (Standard Notes is always a good option). Delete anything that isn't needed, and fix any privacy or security issues that you find.
  • Start favoring your local hard disk over the cloud. If you must use the cloud, choose end-to-end encrypted services wherever possible.
  • Start following blogs and podcasts via RSS feed instead of handing over your email address or social account information. And yes, by all means, do this with my blog also!
  • Use DuckDuckGo instead of Google, and use Firefox instead of Chrome. Turn on as many of Firefox's privacy settings as you can tolerate.
  • Never sign up for rewards programs or mail-in rebates. The risk-adjusted return for the consumer is always negative!

If you take the above steps, you will undoubtedly get pushback from friends and family members – not to mention the corporations that want to mine and sell your data. But don't give in!

This is important, and the peace of mind you get from implementing and maintaining a strong and reasonable personal privacy policy is worth the corresponding reduction in convenience. Again, privacy is a basic safety issue and, ultimately, a fundamental human right.