For people who want to protect their privacy, there’s some good news and some bad news when it comes to using your mobile device.
Bad news first: Mobile devices are notoriously bad for privacy. By default, they collect all kinds of information about their users and share it with mobile carriers, app developers, Google, Apple, and other third parties. Everything from location information to audio recordings can be captured by the computer in your pocket, and in most cases the default settings for the Android and iOS operating systems don’t care too much about your privacy.
Fortunately, there is good news too. First, you can change some settings to better protect your privacy. You can avoid linking your phone to existing accounts, or avoid installing some apps altogether. You can also install apps that help you maintain your privacy. You’ll never be perfectly private using a mobile device, but you can minimize the amount of data you’re generating and the number of people you’re sharing it with.
We’ve put together a list of five apps which help you protect your privacy.
Signal is a messaging app. For secure communications, Signal is the messaging app. It has a well-established track record and is open source.
Signal uses end-to-end encryption, which means that only the intended participants in the conversation are able to read the messages.
To use it requires a phone number. This is the only privacy downside to using Signal, since to use it with others you need to know their phone numbers.
It supports text, audio, and video as well. All of them are encrypted.
You can still send messages to others who haven’t installed Signal, they just won’t be encrypted, but this makes switching to Signal simple since you can keep sending SMS messages just as before. Then use peer pressure to get them using Signal too!
DuckDuckGo (DDG) is a search engine. It’s primary focus is on protecting user privacy. They don’t track users, unlike the most popular search engines.
Their app isn’t only a search engine though, it’s an entire browser. Naturally it uses the DDG search engine, and you can browse the web just like any other browser. It automatically blocks trackers while you’re browsing.
It prominently features a fire icon at the top of the browser, and at any point if you tap that icon it will immediately forget all the tabs and data from your browsing session.
Note that even though “burning” that data will remove it from your device, it doesn’t mean that your ISP or carrier can’t see your web activity. For that, you need other apps, such as the Tor browser.
Tor is a network which allows people to connect to the internet anonymously. The Tor Browser App is a browser which only connects through the Tor network. This means that the sites you’re visiting don’t see your IP address, which can be connected to your identity. It also means that your ISP or carrier won’t see what websites you’re visiting on your phone.
Using Tor is good for privacy, though there is a catch. For one thing, it’s slower than using a normal browser. To use Tor, the information you’re sending and receiving is being sent through multiple hops and with multiple layers of encryption. This slows things down a bit. Also, some people have taken advantage of the Tor network to do nefarious things with their anonymity, and because of that some websites and services won’t work properly if you’re connecting via Tor.
Despite these drawbacks, there is no more private method to browse the web on a mobile device than using the Tor browser.
What if you want privacy while using an app, but not visiting a website itself? DDG or Tor browser won’t help you there. You can route all traffic on your phone over Tor, but that’s a bit complicated to achieve. Instead, you can use a virtual private network (VPN).
A VPN connects you to another network first before you connect to the internet. That means that the app you’re using - or anyone watching your connection - will see your IP address as coming from the VPN, not your own device. A good VPN will also not be blacklisted, as Tor use often is.
There is a drawback to using a VPN though. You are trusting the VPN provider entirely! If they are keeping logs of your connection, then your activity is being monitored and can be viewed by anyone they share those logs with.
It’s important to choose a VPN provider you trust. Free VPNs are almost always a bad idea. Check what the provider says about keeping logs, and if they have a good reputation. There are many VPN apps available; do your research to find what works best for you.
Haven is the most private ecommerce application. It stores data locally, ensuring no one else has access to your information. It uses end-to-end encryption, so that your messages and transactions can only be seen by the people involved in the trade. It uses cryptocurrency so that you aren’t forced to use a bank account or other payment method tied to your identity.
Haven is built on top of OpenBazaar, an open source, peer-to-peer marketplace where people connect directly to each other to buy and sell goods and services. Because there are no middlemen, users pay no fees, there’s no censorship, and people can protect their privacy.
You can learn more about Haven privacy by reading this article.
There are other apps available that help with your privacy. Which apps are missing from this list? What tips do you have to improve privacy on your mobile device? Tell us about it in Slack and on Telegram and Twitter.
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