10 Steps to Defend Against Big Tech

10 Steps to Defend Against Big Tech

Introduction:

It’s no secret that when using the internet, big corporations will attempt to mine your data like you’re a quarry. These tech companies have no care for your rights and the government will do little to defend you. In a world where companies have the power to know what you search for, which products you buy, and even in rare cases. know when a woman is pregnant before her father does. [1] Everyone makes comments and searches things online which they wouldn’t want others to know, be it governments, companies or their friends. This leaves us with the question – how can I protect my information? Unfortunately, the best and only absolute form of protection  would be to stop using the internet, but there are a number of things we can do to at least protect ourselves more than the average internet user.

In this guide, I will explain some basic things anyone can do to defend themselves online for free. You can pay for services like VPN’s and VPS’s (Virtual Private Networks/Servers used to protect and hide your internet traffic from companies, governments and attackers) but that is a different, more complex discussion. Once you already have a grasp of the basics then I would recommend reviewing privacytools.io/classic/ in detail, especially their settings modifications for the internet browser ‘Firefox’ which I won’t cover here, but are invaluable to those seeking digital defences. I’d also recommend reviewing the EFF’s ‘Self Defence Guide’.

Step 1: Alternative Search Engine

The first and most simple you can do is stop using the google search engine. Google offers their services for free largely so that they can track you and mine your data, which drives their revenue. My personal recommendation is to use DuckDuckGo, they won’t track you, or sell your data and this is an easy switch. This is not only a marked improvement for your privacy but you will also get organic search results, rather than Google’s tailored search results, which are often tailored to maximise their financial goals and make as much profit from you as possible.

Step 2: Alternative Browser

My second recommendation is to stop using Microsoft and Google browsers (Edge and Chrome). Alternatively, I would recommend using Firefox as it integrates well with a lot of the further advice to come, and is overall a very privacy-centric, free browser. Alternatives such as Brave are perfectly fine and even some Chromium browsers which retain the look and feel of chrome. This is because, not only do the likes of Firefox and Brave have a team of privacy and security advocates, but the browsers are often more secure and allow the user to control their experience with more flexibility.

Once you have done this, I recommend installing add-ons to further protect your privacy. Add-ons are simply little programs you can add to your browser and can do many things, some of which can enhance your privacy. As I use Firefox I will discuss Firefox Add-ons, but other browsers will likely have a version of the add-on or similar add-ons available. The Addons I have listed are all linked at the bottom, and for Firefox they can be found here. All you need to do is find your add on, click add and accept the permissions. For other browsers, if you search for the name of your browser and addons you will find a guide like this one for Brave.

I currently use the following add-ons:

  • Canvas Blocker
  • Cookie Autodelete
  • Decentraleyes
  • HTTPS Everywhere
  • Privacy Badger
  • Terms of Service; Didn’t Read
  • uBlock Origin

Step 3: Canvas Blocker

Canvas Blocker is a very simple add-on which essentially alters some code on websites to try to prevent ‘Fingerprinting’, the process which allows websites to scan details about you, from your monitor resolution to your operating system, to personally identify you and track you across the internet. You won’t even notice the addo-on running – it will just do its job in the background and help to protect you when browsing, from this surprisingly effective attack. 

Step 4: Cookie Auto Delete

Cookie Auto Delete, as you might expect, automatically deletes cookies. These are often used to track you across the internet. They are required for many sites to run which means that we can not get rid of them entirely, but Cookie Auto Delete attempts to mitigate the risks by automatically deleting them when you close the tab you are using. This then prevents sites from tracking you once you close the tab. The add-on requires little-to-no set up and you can tweak it to ‘whitelist’ sites, so that cookies are not deleted.

Step 5: Decentraleyes

This also requires minimal setup and works in the background of your browser. In short, when you go to a website, instead of going to centralised servers to deliver content for the website, it delivers it locally. This means that instead of many organisations knowing what content you have been using on sites, there will be a reduced number, as the add-on will try to deliver content from your own device where possible.

Step 6: HTTPS Everywhere

With advents in modern browsers forcing HTTPS more and more, this is becoming less essential. However, this add-on forces HTTPS connections to websites. If you use HTTP rather than HTTPS, your connection is not encrypted, which means that potentially anyone could see what you are doing on that website. When using your payment information online, for example, people can try to force you to not use HTTPS so they can steal your details. HTTPS Everywhere will not let this happen without you specifically allowing it. This can be customised, but for most users you only need to turn it on and leave it. Using HTTPS Everywhere is incredibly useful to defend both your privacy and security, as HTTPS is the best line of defence for private communication with websites.

Step 7: Privacy Badger

Privacy Badger is used to automatically block trackers. When you visit a website, the website may use several trackers so that you can be tracked across multiple sites, often so that your data can be sold or for a “personalised experience” (as they say) to try to manipulate people into purchasing a targeted product or service. Privacy Badger will block these in the background. If required you can allow all or some trackers.

Step 8: Terms Of Service; Didn’t Read

This add-on is brilliant and simple. With this installed,  you will see an A-E grading to the right of the URL on websites you visit. If you click this, it will list the important positives and negatives of the site’s terms of service conditions. This allows you to both be aware and decide if you want to use a site without reading the disgustingly long and deliberately confusing terms of service conditions. It should be noted that this has unfortunately not been done for all websites, but it has for most large sites.

Step 9: uBlock Origin

This is quite simply the best ad-block add-on currently available. It uses advanced techniques to block as many ads as possible (usually all) and there is no ‘pro’ version serving to pull money out of you to actually block as many ads as possible. It also has some other more complex features which you may wish to play with. The reason why adverts are a privacy concern rather than simply annoying, is once again they’re used to track you. This tracking is then fed back to the advert provider, likely Google, in order to target you with more personalised and more manipulative adverts in the future.

Step 10: Alternative Services

Once you have completed these steps and set up a host of defences, I would recommend thinking about the services you use. I would opt for services like Telegram or Signal, designed fundamentally to protect your privacy and not sell you out, over the Facebook-owned WhatsApp. Privacy tools discuss this issue at length, but in short if it is made by a large silicon valley company, be wary of trusting it, and if it is made in the US, UK, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, remember it is very easy for the government to demand your data and share it. If the government has a way in, then anyone may be able to use that way in.

My final and most important advice is to think about what you do before you do it. Do you really need this new account? Do you really need to give a company your date of birth or you need to download another app on your phone which might track you? Think before you act.

References:
[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before-her-father-did/

For extra information please see below: 
https://tosdr.org/
https://ublockorigin.com/
https://privacybadger.org/
https://www.eff.org/https-everywhere
https://decentraleyes.org/
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/cookie-autodelete/
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/canvasblocker/
https://privacytools.io
https://ssd.eff.org/

10 Steps to Defend Against Big Tech
Scroll to top