At BitLaunch, we do everything we can to protect your privacy while you're using our service. It's why we created our own payment system, one-click VPN apps, and why we support Tor exit nodes. However, the unfortunate reality is that we have little control over what you do outside of our ecosystem. The services you interact with across the web and how you interact with them could leak your identity if you're not careful.
Unfortunately, though, protecting yourself isn't a walk in the park – no one solution can prevent the invasion of privacy online. True privacy requires changing not just the tools you use but the way you think about and interact with services and content. With the odds stacked against you, staying 100% private often requires sacrifices to convenience, features, and trustfulness. Today, we won't be aiming for that lofty ideal. Instead, we'll cover some simple, effective ways you can stay much more private online.
Use end-to-end encryption where possible
As it stands, end-to-end encryption is simply the best way to protect your data in transit and at rest. It combines powerful cryptographic algorithms with a system of public and private keys to reduce or eliminate the chances that someone can spy on your communications and files. Without your private key, it's exceedingly difficult for an attacker or service provider to spy on your communications.
End-to-end encryption is particularly vital when it comes to text-based communication, where large volumes of data pass through external servers. Though WhatsApp does provide end-to-end encryption, its privacy is flawed, requiring a mobile number for sign up and forcing users in some countries to share their personal information with its parent company, Facebook.
So, what is the alternative? One of the strongest is Signal, an open-source end-to-end encrypted messaging and video chat app utilized by Edward Snowden, Bruce Schneier, and more. The app is funded entirely by grants and is peer reviewed, with no ads or trackers.
Another popular choice is Telegram, though users should note that there are several caveats when it comes to its privacy. End-to-end encryption is only enabled in "Secret chats".
Any chats outside of this, including group chats, use Telegram's proprietary MTProto protocol, which was recently discovered to have four cryptographic vulerabilities. Though these flaws aren't considered critical, the fact that Telegram doesn't make it abundantly clear which chats use MTProto make it a difficult sell.
The final option, which is easier to recommend, is self-hosting. For communication with your family or friendship group, you can create a Matrix-Synapse chat server that supports end-to-end encryption. This ensures no data is stored on a server you don't have control over while protecting it in transit and at rest. For email, self-hosting is also an option, via Mailcow.
However, if you don't want to go through that hassle, there are many end-to-end encrypted mail providers. Protonmail is the largest secure email service, but a recent competitor is Tutanota, which has very affordable premium plans.
Say no to trackers
In the process of researching this article, I was exposed to a total of 246 trackers through my browser, 13 of them from social media platforms, 11 that tracked me across sites, and 222 other types of tracking content such as ads, videos, and more. If you live in the European Union or California, you'll be all too familiar with the amount of data companies want to collect about you will be bombarded with constant prompts to agree to this tracking. If you want to maintain your privacy, it's important you always decline these requests.
Unfortunately, doing so can often be time-consuming and frustrating. The Consent Manager and Never-Consent, and Minimal Consent plugins attempt to remedy this by automatically declining data collection. Though they aren't always successful, it can reduce the amount of work you need to put in.
If you do not live in the EU or California or want to cover instances where websites don't obey GDPR, you can block trackers with the EFF's Privacy Badger plugin. You can then test how well your browser protects your privacy via the Cover Your Tracks site.
Use Tor or a VPN
Protecting yourself from data collection by websites is only one part of the equation. The other is that in many countries your ISP keeps records of every website you visit and shares them with the government or advertisers. This is a little more challenging to protect yourself from, but the two main solutions are Tor and a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Tor is a free, open-source software that directs your traffic through a volunteer-hosted network rather than typical servers. Though it has some drawbacks, such as slower speeds, its encryption and privacy-based browser are typically your best bet from hiding activity from your ISP. Though some attack methods against Tor have been discovered over the years, it is typically a much better choice than browsing normally.
VPNs are an often-marketed solution to claw back internet privacy. They run your traffic through an encrypted tunnel that makes it gibberish to an ISP trying to spy. There are some significant concerns associated with VPNs, though. Namely, though your traffic is hidden from your ISP and in transit from its destination, it has to be decrypted somewhere.
That location is on the servers of the VPN provider. As such, you must have absolute trust in your VPN provider or at least more trust in them than your ISP. You also need to be sure they don't keep logs of your traffic, as they can be forced to turn them over to law enforcement. One alternative that we've advocated for is self-hosting a VPN, which you can do in under a minute via BitLaunch's one-click apps. If you must choose a commercial VPN provider, Mullvad is one that has good ethics. Unlike most VPN providers, they refuse to pay for reviews. They're also externally audited for security, outline the information they collect in detail, and are based in Sweden, where the government can't force them to spy on users.
Use a different search engine
At this point, you'd think it would be common knowledge, but a lot of people still don't realize: Google collects everything you search for. It uses this data to work out what you're interested in, from your hobbies to your sexual orientation. Depending on what you search for and the other Google services you use, it probably also knows the websites you'd visited, where you live and work, your name, address, gender, and phone number, and more.
Don't be fooled into thinking Microsoft's Bing is much better, either. Microsoft has its own ad service and therefore also collects a wealth of data. Instead, you should consider using a privacy-focused search engine such as DuckDuckGo, Startpage, or Disconnect. If you'd rather not trust those providers' word, you can create your own search engine. We have a roundup of the best self-hosted search options here.
Avoid social media (or at least keep your profile private)
This guide so far has focused on reducing the information you leak about yourself involuntarily. However, the truth is that the most accessible information about a person is revealed by themselves. Public social media provides a wealth of data for any interested party, from interests to friends, relations, places visited, and the devices you own.
Even worse, staying logged in to social media allows the companies to track you across the web. If you don't have tracker blockers installed, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram "share" buttons report the sites you've visited back to the platform. As a result, even if you have your privacy settings dialed in you may be at risk. If you're determined to keep your social media accounts, the best practice is to log out of them when you're done. In fact, this is good practice across the web.
Stop using Google Chrome
As we've established, Google already collects huge amounts of data about you. Using its Google Chrome browser only makes it easier for the tech giant to link activity to you as a person. Logging into your Google account with Chrome is basically unavoidable, as logging into YouTube or Gmail automatically signs you into the browser.
So, what's the best alternative? Tor would be the best-case scenario, but you may find it inconvenient for day-to-day browsing. Other alternatives include Brave, Firefox, or Epic with additional options enabled. Microsoft Edge is also a better option, though you should bear in mind that choosing to put your trust in Microsoft rather than Google may just be the lesser of two evils.
The bottom line
It's going to be difficult to remain entirely private online. What you can do, however, is greatly reduce the reduce the amount of identifying information you provide and make it as hard as possible for companies or authorities to track you. If you follow all of the above recommendations, while being careful about the aliases and information you publish online, you will be much closer to a private browsing experience.