"More than machinery, we need humanity."
The recent revelations that the NSA (with the quiet acquiescence of numerous telecoms) has been watching the mobile and online activities of millions of people has sent a chill through many a person. Yet, even as people voiced their frustration and betrayal they still clung to the very devices and web services that had so betrayed them. Our technological toys have proved to be distractions worthy of Huxley’s Brave New World even as they have quietly empowered a surveillance state that has revealed that it does not recognize that 1984 is not a manual on good governance. Concerns about the “all seeing” potential of technology are nothing new, writing about the danger of such computer systems back in 1970 (which he characterized as a type of “Sun God reborn”) Lewis Mumford wrote:
“In the end, no action, no conversation, and possibly in time no dream or thought would escape the wakeful and relentless eye of this deity: every manifestation of life would be processed into the computer and brought under its all-pervading system of control. This would mean, not just the invasion of privacy, but the total destruction of autonomy: indeed the dissolution of the human soul.” (Mumford, Lewis. The Myth of the Machine: II. The Pentagon of Power. 274/275)
Yet, it is unrealistic to suppose that simply because of the NSA revelations that people will swear off technology completely. Some have reacted to the news by claiming that those “with nothing to hide” should not be worried; however, such a sentiment shows a disturbing lack of historical insight as those “with nothing to hide” may all too often be classified as people of interest by the government, and the “nothing to hide” of today is the “everything to fear” of tomorrow. Thus what are needed are tools that will enable us to continue to function, but that allow us to do so in a way that protects our privacy and anonymity. People are stifled when they fear that all their actions are watched.
Thus, what follows is a list of programs, apps, and sites that will better enable you to protect your privacy and anonymity without forcing you to totally “go without.” Granted, of paramount importance in going forward is for us (all of us) to develop a more nuanced relationship with our technology and the Internet in which we better understand that just as we use our technology others may make use of it to use us. This list is a work in progress and will be broadened as we learn of new services. The list in each section is alphabetical and does not connote a total endorsement of one service over another.
We also cannot claim to have used all of them, but they come recommended from one source or another. Still, let the installer beware! Part of how we got into this mess was not enough personal responsibility when it comes to our technology…
This list is the outgrowth of a back-and-forth that took place between LibrarianShipwreck (@libshipwreck) Stop The Cyborgs (@stopthecyborgs) and Decivilized (@decivlized), thanks are also due to @trondeler.
Something missing from the list? Let us know!
Last updated 6/26/13
Programs, Apps, Software…
BetterPrivacy – “serves to protect against special longterm cookies, a new generation of ‘Super-Cookie’, which silently conquered the Internet. This new cookie generation offers unlimited user tracking to industry and market research. Concerning privacy Flash-cookies are most critical.” Browser Add-on, Cookie blocker (cookie jar?),
Bitmessage – “Bitmessage is a P2P communications protocol used to send encrypted messages to another person or to many subscribers. It is decentralized and trustless, meaning that you need-not inherently trust any entities like root certificate authorities. It uses strong authentication which means that the sender of a message cannot be spoofed, and it aims to hide “non-content” data, like the sender and receiver of messages, from passive eavesdroppers like those running warrantless wiretapping programs.” (may be available for Windows only) Email
CloudFogger – “Cloudfogger encrypts your data on the local device before it gets uploaded to the cloud. That guarantees that Dropbox and others never get access to the content of your files…Cloudfogger uses transparent encryption, which makes daily use fast and simple: On the local system you still access your data as you always did – while all files are securely encrypted when they get uploaded to the cloud.” Cloud Storage, Encryption
Cyanogen Mod – “CyanogenMod (pronounced sigh-AN-oh-jen-mod), is a customized, aftermarket firmware distribution for several Android devices (See above for supported devices & how to install CyanogenMod on said devices). Based on the Android Open Source Project, CyanogenMod is designed to increase performance and reliability over Android-based ROMs released by vendors and carriers such as Google, T-Mobile, HTC, etc. CyanogenMod also offers a variety of features & enhancements that are not currently found in these versions of Android. While this build is heavily optimized, it is also capable of pushing your phone much harder. CyanogenMod and it’s team hold no responsibility to any damage caused to your phone, loss of earnings as a result of damaging your phone or anything else that is connected to the development of this rom.” Mobile Apps
DoNotTrackMe – “DoNotTrackMe protects your privacy by blocking online tracking. DNTMe blocks ads and cookies with tracking, prevents data collection, and keeps your private browsing what it should be – private. Stop web tracking of your browsing activity now.” Browser Add-on, Cookie Blocker
DuckDuckGo – a search engine that takes anonymity, the filter bubble, and tracking seriously. One of their mottos sums it up simply: “Google tracks you. We don’t.” For some browsers (including Firefox) you can download a DuckDuckGo App that will replace Google as the ubiquitious search engine in the top right corner of the browser. Search Engine
Etherpad – “Etherpad allows you to edit documents collaboratively in real-time, much like a live multi-player online editor, allowing you to write articles, proposals, press releases and the like, together with your friends, your fellow students or your colleagues, working on the same document at the same time.” Kind of like Google Docs without the Google. Document Creation
F-Droid – “The F-Droid Repository is an easily-installable catalogue of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) applications for the Android platform. The server contains the details of multiple versions of each application, and the Android client makes it easy to browse, install them onto your device, and keep track of updates.” Mobile App, App Guide
Fairphone – “Fairphone’s mission is to develop a seriously cool smartphone that is designed and produced with minimal harm to people and planet. Its vision is to deliver technology that really matters. Taking a step-by-step approach, Fairphone aims to make the story behind the production of electronics more transparent, making ethical interventions where possible and giving consumers a choice for fairer electronics.” Currently only available in Europe, but concerted action might see this come to the US (eventually). The phone may not be a privacy panacea, but will still be a solid alternative to most of what’s currently available. We previously wrote about Fairphone. Smartphone, Hardware
The Freedom Box – an ongoing project “that combines the computing power of a smart phone with your wireless router to create a network of personal servers to protect privacy during daily life, maintain beachheads of free network access during times of political instability, and open lines of communication during natural disasters.” This is a project working, currently, to assemble the tools to create these “FreedomBoxes.” Encryption, Network,
Freenet – “Freenet is free software which lets you anonymously share files, browse and publish “freesites” (web sites accessible only through Freenet) and chat on forums, without fear of censorship. Freenet is decentralised to make it less vulnerable to attack, and if used in “darknet” mode, where users only connect to their friends, is very difficult to detect. Communications by Freenet nodes are encrypted and are routed through other nodes to make it extremely difficult to determine who is requesting the information and what its content is.“ File Sharing, Social Networking, Blogging
Gemini App Manager – “This is a fast and powerful tool to manage your varity [sic] apps, which includes Risk indication, app Autorun Control(ROOT), App Firewall, Task Killer, Move app 2 SD card(Android 2.2 or later), Uninstaller, Backup apks to SD card, and etc. And in expert mode, you can filter and sort packages by many useful ways. Also it can call root function automatically to get better performance if your device is rooted. Try this to check your apps, you may find something you do not know before!” Mobile Apps, App Management, Risk Indicator
The Guardian Project – “While smartphones have been heralded as the coming of the next generation of communication and collaboration, they are a step backwards when it comes to personal security, anonymity and privacy. The Guardian Project aims to create easy to use apps, open-source software libraries and operating system modifications, and customized mobile devices that can be used and deployed around the world, by any person looking to protect their communications and personal data from unjust intrusion and monitoring.” Mobile Apps,
GNU – “free software to do all of the jobs computer users want to do—and thus make proprietary software a thing of the past.” According to the GNU site: “Our mission is to preserve, protect and pomote the freedom to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer software and defend the rights of Free Software users.” Operating System
HTTPS Everywhere – “HTTPS Everywhere is a Firefox and Chrome extension that encrypts your communications with many major websites, making your browsing more secure.” This plug-in is a collaboration between the Tor Project and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Internet Browsing, Browser Add-on
Ixquick – According to their site “The only search engine that does not record your IP address.” Though “enhanced by Google” Ixquick notes “Whenever you search with Ixquick, your SEARCH is not recorded, your IP ADDRESS is not recorded, your IDENTITY is not recorded, no TRACKING COOKIES are placed on your browser, and our SSL ENCRYPTION ensures that your ISP or hackers can’t eavesdrop. You are never seen by any of the search engines we query.” Ixquick has servers in the US and in the Netherlands and has been awarded the European Privacy Seal, and has been given a “privacy score” of 100 out of 100. Ixquick and Startpage are sister sites. Search Engine
Mozilla Firefox – “Mozilla is a proudly non-profit organization dedicated to keeping the power of the Web in people’s hands. We’re a global community of users, contributors and developers working to innovate on your behalf.” Web Browser
ObscuraCam – “Take a picture or load a photo or video from the Gallery, and ObscuraCam will automatically detect faces that you can pixelate, redact (blackout) or protect with funny nose and glasses. You can also invert pixelate, so that only the person you select is visible, and no one in the background can be recognized. This app will also remove all identifying data stored in photos including GPS location data and phone make & model. You can save the protected photo back to the Gallery, or share it directly to Facebook, Twitter or any other “Share” enabled app.” Mobile App, Picture sharing, Picture taking.
ownCloud – “ownCloud gives you universal access to your files through a web interface or WebDAV. It also provides a platform to easily view & sync your contacts, calendars and bookmarks across all your devices and enables basic editing right on the web. Installation has minimal server requirements, doesn’t need special permissions and is quick. ownCloud is extendable via a simple but powerful API for applications and plugins. ownCloud started with a keynote by Frank Karlitschek at Camp KDE’10 where he talked about the need of a self-controlled free and open source cloud.” Cloud Storage, Open Source Cloud.
Panic! (InTheClear) – “InTheClear is a suite of mobile applications designed to keep users safer in difficult situations by using their phone’s built-in tools. At its core are two main features: Emergency SMS and Data Wipe. At installation, InTheClear walks a new user through the process of configuring each of these features. The user can then activate either Emergency SMS or Data Wipe individually, on an ad-hoc basis. In addition, they can simultaneously activate *both* Emergency SMS and Data Wipe via Panic!, a simple, one-touch feature of InTheClear.” Mobile App, Emergency Data Protection, Information Wipe
PrivacyFix – “Privacyfix puts you in complete control of your online privacy. The Privacyfix browser extension scans for privacy issues based on your Facebook and Google settings, the other sites that you visit and the companies tracking you. Privacyfix then takes you instantly to the settings that you need to fix. Privacyfix also can warn you of new privacy issues as you surf the web, so you know when sites like Facebook change their privacy policies or have privacy breaches…your data stays completely private. Privacyfix is engineered not to transmit or share any of your data (history, cookies or privacy settings). All of the ratings and calculations for Privacyfix happen inside your browser, using generic formulas and data sent from our server. The only data that your browser sends to our server is standard technical data (like your IP address), which we promptly delete.” This is a project through PrivacyChoice. Browser Extension
PrivacyScore – Less a true service than a way to find out information about others services you use, “A privacyscore estimates the privacy risk of using a website based on how they handle your personal and tracking data.” The site has not scored every service but it provides some interesting information about who is watching you and how much. This is perhaps more of a teaching tool (for yourself and to use with others) than an easy “install” solution. This is a project through PrivacyChoice. Privacy Information, Privacy Ratings
Riseup.net – “Riseup provides online communication tools for people and groups working on liberatory social change. We are a project to create democratic alternatives and practice self-determination by controlling our own secure means of communications.” Riseup does not automatically allow a user to create an account one must either be “invited” by an existing member or request an account (which can take some time), but you’ve been waiting for private e-mail this long, right? Email
Seecrypt – “Protect your private conversations with Seecrypt Mobile – a new software-only communications app and service which allows you to make and receive unlimited, secure voice calls and text messages between Seecrypt Mobile-enabled devices, anywhere in the world.” Mobile App, Phone calls, Text messages
Seeks – “Seeks is Free Software, and distributed under the AGPLv3 license. Through open code and data formats, Seeks allows you to regain control over your selection of results and to build a personal profile you can share with others. This is your control over curation of any feed of textual and image data. Seeks is decentralized and lets users share through passive collaborative filtering.” Search Engine
SilentCircle – “Created by a team up of some of the world’s most noted cryptographers, internationally recognized security software engineers, celebrated network icons and former special operations operators. Silent Circle is a global encrypted communications service offering a comprehensive suite of simple yet secure tools for your mobile devices – encrypted video, phone, text and email. Send a private text across town or whisper in someone’s ear a thousand miles away.” Mobile Apps, Email, Texting, Phone Calling, Video Chat
SpiderOak – “100% Private Online Backup, Sync & Sharing. Instantly retrieve files from any device, anywhere.” Think of it as a fluffy cloud in a clear sky instead of the ominous dark form of the Google cloud. “SpiderOak provides the ability to utilize cloud technologies while retaining that precious right we call privacy.” Note – this is not free (but the cost is not too high). Cloud Storage
Startpage – “Startpage, and its sister search engine Ixquick, are the only third-party certified search engines in the world that do not record your IP address or track your searches..” Though “enhanced by Google” Startpage notes “Whenever you search with Ixquick, your SEARCH is not recorded, your IP ADDRESS is not recorded, your IDENTITY is not recorded, no TRACKING COOKIES are placed on your browser, and our SSL ENCRYPTION ensures that your ISP or hackers can’t eavesdrop. You are never seen by any of the search engines we query.” Startpage has servers in the US and in the Netherlands and has been awarded the European Privacy Seal, and has been given a “privacy score” of 100 out of 100. Ixquick and Startpage are sister sites. Search Engine
The Tor Project – “Tor is free software and an open network that helps you defend against a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security known as traffic analysis.” The Tor Project offers a variety of tools that can be used by those worried about protecting their online privacy, including a Tor Browser, a Tor Cloud, and OrBot (Tor for Android devices). Mobile Apps, Cloud Storage, Browser software,
TrueCrypt – Free encryption software which “creates a virtual encrypted disk within a file and mounts it as a real disk…Encryption is automatic, real-time (on-the-fly) and transparent.” Encryption
WhisperSystems – according to the WhisperSystems website: “our projects are focused on creating simple and easy to use tools for secure mobile communication and secure mobile storage.” The software is open source and thus “anyone can easily verify the work as advertised. WhisperSystems has two apps available at the moment (for Android):
Mobile Apps, Phone Calling, Texting,
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – “because freedom can’t protect itself.” “The ACLU is our nation’s guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.” Works extensively (through the courts) on issues like the first amendment, the fourth amendment, and privacy.
Center for Constitutional Rights – “The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.”
Electronic Frontier Foundation – “EFF broke new ground when it was founded in 1990—well before the Internet was on most people’s radar—and continues to confront cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights today. From the beginning, EFF has championed the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights.” EFF has recently launched a Resource Guide as well: PRISM-Break (our lists have some overlap, but also many differences).
FreePress – “Free Press is building a powerful nationwide movement to change media and technology policies, promote the public interest and strengthen democracy. Free Press advocates for universal and affordable Internet access, diverse media ownership, vibrant public media and quality journalism.”
Public Knowledge – “Public Knowledge preserves the openness of the Internet and the public’s access to knowledge; promotes creativity through balanced copyright; and upholds and protects the rights of consumers to use innovative
Stop Watching Us – “The revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance apparatus, if true, represent a stunning abuse of our basic rights. We demand the U.S. Congress reveal the full extent of the NSA’s spying programs.” At current the group (which has formed very [very] recently, seems busy putting together a petition of sorts to demand the government take action. The group is associated with The Free Press and the Free Press Action Fund.