Privacy Guide

About

This guide's goal is give everyone the resources to find what their balance is, and also to help them easily find what their next step is when they are ready and have the time to take it.

The guide is separated into levels of difficulty of implementation.

You can stop when you reach your technical comfort zone - or you can push on to learn more!

To start, there's a frustrating truth we need to acknowledge regarding privacy and security:


There's a balancing act to maintain it.

The balance is between privacy+security (really the same thing) and ease-of-use.



You can think of it like this - the more locks you have on your door, the safer you are.

But it's also a lot more time-consuming to get into your own house!


So, it's ultimately up to you how much time your security and privacy is worth!

I hope this guide makes it at least a little bit easier to find out- it is the result of my own privacy and security journey.

Enjoy!


Curious about the who/what/why? I have a page on that too!

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Comprehension Key

  • While more difficult technically does mean more secure, there's a lot of nuance there. You may not actually gain any meaningful benefit for your effort, given your particular lifestyle and privacy concerns by going beyond The Basics.
  • Each section builds upon the last, so you should be using some of the tools from The Basics, alongside the tools you learn in the next two levels. A good example is the Brave web browser - it's just the best browser available. You can also pick and choose what works for you, and get a mix of things from each at any time - that's up to you.

The Basics

Anyone can do it, and everyone should be using these ones!


Browser

First, switch to the Brave web browser from whatever you're using. It comes by default with privacy and safey tools ("Shields") enabled that would take time and effort on Firefox, and are likely impossible on any other browser. Since it uses the same underlying engines as Chrome, it's fast and compatible with Chrome extensions. Choose to use the Duck Duck Go search engine by default.

Messaging/Calls

It's hard to get your friends and family to switch messaging services, but Signal provides a go-between to allow you to receive messages from them until they do, while you communicate with your security/privacy minded friends in the same app.

Signal is best thought of as a replacement for iMessage+FaceTime, or Android Messages+Duo.

Once installed on your phone, you can text (SMS) with it - as well as talk to other Signal users via messaging, audio, or video! You can then install it on your computer to sync your messages. Group and rich messaging is enabled.

The best part? Setup couldn't be easier! Install the app, tap where told to, and go!

Please note that it can't make messaging someone not using the Signal app more secure, nothing can!


Password Management

The next step is a secure means of storing and generating passwords, and I recommend BitWarden. The low-hanging fruit of the tech crime world are people who use the same password for everything, or variations of it. Don't be that easy to breach, and the majority of ID theft attacks will overlook you. To see how you've already been breached, use HaveIBeenPwned.


Email

To keep your email for your-eyes-only, switch from your email provider (such as Gmail) to ProtonMail, or, choose from any of these alternatives.

Note, when your data isn't the product, a large inbox cannot be free. While the free tiers of these services is sizable, and you could certainly stay with it indefinitely by deleting un-needed messages and avoiding signing it up for spam - there's a good chance you'll need to spend a few dollars a year down the road otherwise.

VPNs (Virtual Private Networks)

To encrypt your web browsing and mask your location, use a VPN. ProtonVPN is by the same folks as ProtonMail, but you can feel free to use any of these other options.

To learn more about what VPNs are and what they do (and don't do!), click here.


DNS (Domain Name Service)

To keep your browsing history out of ISP hands - while blocking many malicious websites from ever touching your computer - use Quad9 DNS.

Cloud Storage, Backup, and Office Suite

Rather than Dropbox or Google Drive to store your files, use Nextcloud. Note that Nextcloud is the software used, multiple companies offer to host it for you. Here's more you can choose from.

Alternatively, use Syncthing - and easily have your own files backed up between your own computers.

If you've been using Google Drive for office-suite tasks, use LibreOffice instead. Just change View > Interface to Tabbed for a more modern look, and change the save defaults to Open Document standard for interoperability with users of other Office suites. If you want a storage and office suite in one that compares with Google Drive, you can look into Zoho Docs. They don't seem to have a particular dedication to privacy, but at least they're not Google!


Intermediate

It's starting to get serious!

Computer Operating System

Rather than using Windows, ChromeOS, or macOS - use Linux.

Linux can be installed on nearly every computer for free, and it doesn't harvest your data like 'the big three' do. In fact, it doesn't even update without your explicit permission! There's a lot of different Linux options - I recommend Linux Mint Cinnamon. My YouTube channel will soon feature a 'Switching to Linux' series/playlist, so keep an eye open for that.

Note, only applications made for Linux can be expected to run properly, and the same goes for hardware. Make sure the software you need is compatible, or that a Linux-friendly alternative will work for you. You can also dual-boot or virtualize Windows or macOS for the times you need or want to run incompatible software - I do this for two tools and some games.

Please also notice - installing a new OS will likely erase all your data! Back it up first!

Cloud Storage & Backup

Rather than Dropbox or Google Drive to store your files, use a NAS (network attached storage) that you have total control over! Synology is a popular and (relatively) easy-to-use brand.


Advanced

It's time to learn!

Cloud Storage, Backup, DNS, VPN, Adblocking, Streaming, Home Automation...

Rather than using any intermediary service provider - build your own server!

FreeNAS, YunoHost, OpenMediaVault, and TurnKeyLinux are a great start!

Note: While the latter three are simpler to get up and running in my experience, FreeNAS is far more scalable and stable - and is likely the most used server software in existence, which means it has excellent community documentation and support.

Smartphone OS

It's time to get a new phone - er, new-to-you phone!

If you have an existing Android device, there's a chance one of these open and privacy-centric platforms can be installed on it.

Lineage OS for MicroG and /e/ are my picks - along with the upcoming PinePhone hardware that should have several more options available.

GrapheneOS is for those who are willing to give up more convenience for more privacy.


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