Does using alternative web browsers and search engines make a difference?

privacy

#1

So for the last couple months, I have switched from Safari to Opera Touch and Duckduckgo on my phone, as well as Firefox and Startpage on my computer. Are these precautions actually protecting my data? If so, how?

On another note, I have to get a new phone soon, as this one is slowly deteriorating. Can the type of phone I choose to get next affect my digital privacy?


#2

Sure it makes a difference. The less information you leak to the outside world, the less is known about what makes you tick. All information that gets to the internet is potentially collected and kept forever for whatever purpose.

With more privacy-respecting browsers, Privacy Badger and uBlock Origin adblocker you’ll leak way less data. Going through all your privacy-related settings in all of your apps and optimize them. Turn off settings that send data to external services (text prediction service, correct-as-you-type, auto-suggest, search suggestions, translation service, etc.) also very important. Prefer website above app versions.

You will lose some usability, but you’ll gain privacy protection. Now it is costing you a lot of time to check all of this out and get used to different way of working, but after a while you’ll get used to it and when installing a new app you’ll check privacy settings as a habit. It will not be that bad then :slight_smile:

And you will be able to teach others, having gained valuable skills.

Regarding your phone: An Android device, especially Samsung is worst for your privacy. You may consider an Apple phone, or - for more advanced users - an Android alternative OS (like LineageOS or e.foundation).


#3

Regarding cell phone : Purism will sell Librem 5 phone soon, which seems to be a phone designed to protect your data and privacy. I like the idea of hardware switches for camera, microphone, WiFi/Bluetooth, and baseband. But as they are trying to develop HW, SW, OS etc. from zero by them selves to make sure there are no back doors for data leaks the shipping date was already two times delayed. And other question is how user friendly and reliable it will be as it is totally new product without real user experience. It might be an option for early adopters and experienced users.
And also it is not a cheap option which I understand as development a phone requires a great amount of effort, time and money.

I do believe they will be successful on this field as they already proved their ability by producing and selling notebooks which are designed also to protect your data and privacy. Again, it is not best performing and cheapest option, and also might be a little bit tricky for regular users without deeper tech knowledge, but unfortunately we are still in the age where we have to sacrifice something if we want to be protected against surveillance capitalism.

There is quite significant effort in the world in order to change current status quo, but it will take some time and it will not be easy. I do believe that our movement can play a big role in this effort.

Their laptop and phone is based on Open Source SW, but as @aschrijver mentioned in this forum there is Crisis in OSS so you should take this in account as well before you make final decision.


#4

Yes, I am following Librem 5 development too (will have a hard choice to make between Librem and fairphone.com). The reason I didn’t mention it is because i expect this will not be really consumer-ready for some time. More suited in short run to tech-savvy people with Linux knowledge.


#5

I’d say that another easy way to improve your privacy is to control your social media usage and where you send messages. For example whats app is end-to-end encrypted whereas regular old text messaging is not. Just another way to keep your personal information out of prying eyes and/or data leaks.


#6

I agree with your message. Note that in the case of Whatsapp it is not at all sure how your privacy is really protected, even when it is e2e encrypted messaging that FB offers here (just saying, but this is a whole separate, off-topic here, discussion).


#7

Absolutely, and I know people who take issue with WhatsApp simply due to the fact that FB owns them, so of course there are other alternatives as well such as Signal.


#8

As a web developer I can tell you that YES running something like uBlock Origin in your web browser makes all the difference. And absolutely nobody should use Chrome, it is literally spyware! I suggest Firefox Focus which is a mobile browser which does not save anything at all between sessions.

The best option is to adjust the settings of your computer browser so that every window you open is in private mode. You can search the web on how to do that. This way every time you come to the browser, it’s very difficult for anyone to know who you are, even Google, Amazon and Facebook won’t know who you are. In private mode nothing is saved, which is what you absolutely need to be free.

The key is 1) to block tracking and ads and more importantly 2) make yourself invisible

Outside of the browser, it is hell. Android in itself is spyware, Google created it to spy on you and control your choices. Phones are not secure either. You can try to restrict things though settings, but you would still be tracked almost all the time. Not completely futile to resist, but almost. The safer thing to do is use a computer rather than a mobile device. The best advice is never to install any apps or plugins unless you’re sure of who has created them, because even one mistake can install spyware or a virus.


#9

Hi Siddhi, yes, in Android , Firefox is the only browser that supports addons. Having UblockOrigin is important. If you haven’t got a chance to review UBlockOrigin advanced user mode yet, give it a try. I like startpage.com search engine because they are not hosted on any cloud (They explicitly say so in their documentation) + DuckduckGo is in AWS. What do you think, and share your experience with migration and difficulties faced and how you overcame them if you can take the time to post it!


#10

I like using Startpage as well. Moving from Chrome to Firefox was a big thing in my house. My family thought I was being a bit paranoid. I also ended up deleting all the social media on my phone and using opera touch to use them through private web browsers. In total, it was not as difficult as I thought it would be. It just took a but of research and help from people here! I sat down one day after swim practice and took two hours to convert my digital life, really. On the other hand, most of my school work is done through Google Chrome and Google Classroom. My school computer is also very blocked (you can see all of that discussion here: School Does Not Allow Alternate Web Browsers I never really liked doing things through the computer because I am a very tactile learner to begin with, so I found ways around it (link to that post:How to Avoid Digital Homework Assignments). I downloaded HTTPS everywhere and Privacy Badger to keep me safe on my Chromebook, and adjusted a bunch of the settings. It was a process, but now I feel a lot better about my digital privacy. I also started using Only Office for my documents. If you want, I can write an entire post about the transition ect. that goes into greater detail. I threads that I linked really helped me!


#11

Thanks for sharing!
I really recommend reviewing UblockOrigin advanced user mode documentations when you get some time if you are interested. It’s a really fantastic addon and I can’t imagine browsing with it.


#12

That would be fabulous, @Siddhi! If you want it to be a community-supported blog post you can do like me. First publish on the forum, then e.g. on LinkedIn or Medium or a federated blog engine, and - when the community website is up - publish it there and we’ll promote it with our channels and help from other members.


#13

As soon as I have time I will try to do that!


#14

Hi @gkrishnaks. So nice to see you here! @Siddhi you were just talking to a privacy expert :slight_smile:

PS. There is a yet another positive development with Firefox regarding privacy in that they started to add anti-fingerprinting techniques to their browser with code adopted from Tor project. I tooted about it here. (Siddhi, you may like Mastodon, btw, toot instead of tweet)


#15

Thanks, glad to be here. I’m aspiring to become an expert someday :slight_smile: !


#16

Hi @Siddhi - Stumbled over your question. I’ve been working in this area for the last five years. With very high ambitions we set out to create findx.com an independent search engine, but last fall we had to throw in the towel on that project.

A couple of thoughts:

  1. Privacy is important!
    But at this stage, it is still for tech-savvy people - and it very quickly gets very nerdy, and there are tons of ways to protect yourself, VPN, tracker-blocker extensions like uBlock origin, Tor network, Linux phones, and laptops… you can hear it already, right? … .

  2. Privacy is not important enough
    Habits seem to trump privacy concerns. Even hardcore datethicists have a hard time changing their habits to use another search engine or browser

  3. Never enough privacy for the ones who strive for anonymity.
    The tinfoil hats are a small (but from time to time loud) breed - and no argument or initiative will probably be enough for them - and that’s fine they can set up a searx instance, run their own crawler, build their own of firefox from the source and run Linux - but it’s not for “ordinary” people. who often can’t tell the difference between a browser and a search engine.

I collected some of my learnings and a few tips on Activateprivacy.com - a couple of posts specifically about search engines -

TOOLTIP: Regarding Private Browsers, I have to add one to the list - Brave.com is a really interesting project led by Brendan Eich - (I need to write a post on browser comparison too…)

Happy to follow this community btw


#17

That said - I’ve not given up hope, and we have just launched a new search engine. www.givero.com - Instead of making privacy our selling point (like Duckduckgo) we decided to make it a social enterprise focusing on donating our revenue to good causes. We still have very high data ethics standards, and an option to switch on/off personalization for both results and ads, but like any other centralized search engine we can’t give any guarantee for anonymity, but we believe we can do good in different ways.


#18

I would be interested in reading about comaprisons between different browsers!


#19

@brisl hi, when you make a post on browser comparison, I would like to recommend for your consideration that you include GNU ICECAT as well.

Yes, people who are yet to learn the difference between a search engine and browser may not use it yet, but they will get to see its name and why you recommend it, which may encourage them to learn (the difference between browser/SE, and then much more things eventually)

What do you think?


#20

Siddhi, your question and the subsequent responses point out the difficulty we’re going to have with this issue. It requires an incredibly tech savvy person to do what is required to protect your privacy. As a non-technical person, looking for the ease of technology for my work, and in a desire to put my phone down more and engage in real life, the process feels too overwhelming. Thus, I feel like I represent a large majority of users who will have their data snatched.

This is the obstacle we, as a society, are up against, and the danger is more for our children who are growing up with the algorithms determining their option and choices.

I don’t have any answers, but this thread pointed out another issue with youth beyond the bottomless instagram scroll and comparison culture that is snatching attention and lowering self-esteem.