It’s no secret at this point that Google is a data hoarding hamster, but some realize this after using their services for months, years and even decades. And lets be frank here, Google may offer controls for privacy, but they dug the controls deep into their settings where most users won’t even find or look for them. And no one can really audit if they do anything for real or how much of the data they already sold to 3rd parties and blocking or removing it makes any difference at this point.
But still, there are controls for it and you can use them to at least feel better in worst case scenario lol. Some panels may interleave or share parts of controls, but I’ve listed them anyway for faster direct access.
VIEW AND DOWNLOAD ALL YOUR DATA
Download ALL your data from Google
BASIC GOOGLE CONTROLS
Your Google Personal Info
Google Privacy Controls
Google Privacy Checkup
Google Activity Control
3RD PARTY APPS WITH ACCESS TO GOOGLE SERVICES
Google Connected Apps
DELETE GOOGLE SERVICES / DATA
Delete individual Google products IRREVERSIBLE!
Delete Google Account IRREVERSIBLE!
I also suggest you sweep through all panels and look at every setting in there and decide whether you want them enabled or not. Also, be aware that controlling activity settings will also affect how their products work. For example, if you disable Youtube Watched Activity, Youtube won’t track what videos you’ve watched (at all) and it also won’t remember where you stopped watching videos if you stop watching them half way through.
What is also a bit worrying is the fact there is ZERO controls for GMail in particular, a service/product which stores by far the most of your personal data.
Are you privacy conscious, but you realized you don’t actually have any options? You can either use a dumb phone, a ridiculously overpriced iPhone or Google infested Android. There are literally no other options unless you sacrifice everything that makes a smartphone virtually “smart”.
So, you’re stuck with Android with all its Google shit. There is a cure for that. It’s called Blokada and it seems to be so effective Google removed it from GooglePlay because it was “going against their business practices” (which just means it blocked their ads and data hoarding). You can also grab it on F-Droid Android software store and if you still have doubts, you can also check Blokada source code…
How does it work?
In an essence, it works as a local VPN, so you don’t have to root your device. Just install it from its webpage (you’ll have to manually allow installation of a 3rd party app, under Android Oreo it should give you access to controls for this directly with the popup, at least on my Xiaomi Mi5 it does) and fire it up. It’ll connect as VPN service, but it’s not really redirecting traffic anywhere, it’s just a neat trick to filter traffic without having to root the phone.
Blokada is using blacklists just like AdBlock, AdGuard or uBlock. It’ll block ads, trackers and even allow you to change DNS to whatever you like.
It gives you a huge selection of various blacklists as well as DNS servers and also has a whitelist where you can exclude apps from filtering in case they get broken or you want to support the devs of that app specifically by allowing ads.
In general, not many apps have problems with it even though I’ve removed most of predefined whitelist exclusions. Some banking apps may refuse to function when any kind of VPN is enabled and since those apps can’t differentiate from actual VPN or a local VPN like Blokada, you’ll at least know what is causing the problem and you need to turn off Blokada entirely for the time you want to use such apps. Whitelisting doesn’t seem to help since those apps seem to detect VPN of any kind is on and just plain refuse to work properly.
Does it work?
Can’t say for sure other than my battery seems to last for quite a bit longer now, I’m not seeing any ads anywhere, not even on Youtube (could be just that I watch videos without ads), but the notifications do show a lot of trackers being blocked and the number of total blocks is in the thousands after just few days of using Blokada. I guess it’s working alright.
Cloudflare launched their new free public DNS service yesterday (yeah, funny date to make product announcement on April 1st). But this is no joke. They actually launched this product. In a nutshell, it’s a service like OpenDNS or Google DNS, except it’s the fastest of them all and cares about user privacy.
Primary DNS: 188.8.131.52
Secondary DNS: 184.108.40.206
It is yet unknown if Cloudflare DNS provides any other security features like cache poisoning protection, anti-phishing and malware blocking. Still waiting for their reply on this one, will update as I receive more info.
I’ve also included it on my public DNS list where I feature all DNS services that matter.
Took me a while, but when Google fired James Damore for his memo, that was a tipping point for me. It was also a day when I entirely dropped Google Search. And also a day when I decided to start using more and more “independent” alternative services that are more privacy focused. Some are easier to switch to, some are not. But let me tell you, it’s worth it when you realize how these mega corporations are just straight up evil. From their fucked up internal politics to endless meddling with politics worldwide to how they handle our sensitive private info with next to no regard for anything or anyone. Sure, they offer services for free in exchange for our privacy, but there will be a point when you’ll ask yourself, is my private info and data really worth so little that I trust it to Google instead of paying a relatively small subscription for a secure encrypted private mailbox with nearly same features as found on GMail? It takes some time to realize that, but take some time and think about it.
To make final decisions easier afterwards, here are some tips on what services to use in order to break free from mega corporations mining your personal data…
iquick | StartPage
HERE WeGo | HERE Maps for Android
After long hours of research and investigation, I’ve dug up these services that are highly focused on privacy and security, are mostly located in countries with most rigorous privacy laws or they are designed in such a way no one can even force them to uncover your data, because only you have the decryption keys. They may not be free, but can you really put a price tag on your privacy when you think about it? Some services cost a bit more a year, others less. Some are even free but with certain limitations like e-mail storage space and less features which kinda forces you to upgrade. But you can evaluate them cost free this way and decide which ones you like.
If you know any other services that you feel they need exposure here, leave them down below in the comments and I’ll check them out. If I feel they are worthy, I’ll include them on the list above.
Ghostery is a browser extension that provides users of the interwebs with enhanced privacy as it blocks creepy crawlies hiding in webpages, tracking you, following everything you click or visit. Ghostery has been a widely used tool by users who care about privacy and then Cliqz bough them some time ago. And people had some concerns over what they do with all the info on trackers and how they actually make the money to pay their programmers. Well, worry no more, Ghostery has gone open source!
Anyone can check its source code now and inspect how it works and what and how it transmits the data to Cliqz, ensuring transparency and potential forks as well as accelerated development with larger base of contributors. It’s great news for everyone who value their privacy. If you don’t use it yet, check it out. It supports all major browsers and it can be found on extensions/add-ons webpages of all these browsers.
Recently, Facebook started promoting Onavo Protect VPN as means of protecting user privacy when browsing online for smartphones. Without disclosing that Facebook owns Onavo company since 2013! I find it absolutely disgusting that they weren’t disclosing this even back then and not surprised they still haven’t done the same today.
Now, ask yourself, Facebook, the cancer for privacy that it is, would you trust them routing ALL your traffic through their VPN “pipeline” to “protect” your privacy? I sure as hell wouldn’t, I have all their shit blocked on all webpages and stay as far away from their services as possible. I can’t really say anything more than to stay away from this shit. It’s sleazy, low and it’s not even protecting anyone’s privacy, it’s just moving literally EVERYTHING you view online through it, served to Facebook on a silver platter. Even data passing through is encrypted, they still see who is visiting what website and that’s already too much. AVOID!
I’m a bit surprised there is nearly no news surrounding this in English news, especially on tech sites, considering the scale and amount of users of WOT that aren’t limited to German market only.
Researchers of German NDR (Norddeutscher Rundfunk or Northern German Broadcasting) found out that WOT browser add-on was (and as things stand now, still is) gathering user data beyond what they were promising, ranging beyond only visited websites, they are gathering entire user history from browser, usernames, e-mails and more and selling it to 3rd parties. And they are doing this in such sloppy way external researchers were able to identify individuals by accessing open resources from WOT without even illegally (via hack) accessing their servers. You can apparently do it without any of that!
What’s even worse, after researchers asked developers of WOT about these things, all they got back was… silence, pretty much. Just a very vague reply that you can read here. When someone, instead of being open about the issue veils in silence, that’s a sign that something is going on. And nothing good will come from that.
I liked WOT a lot, because it was good resource to identify unknown websites and what experience others had with it. I’m not aware of any other service that has such level of user involvement in user rating and commenting of webpages. But as things stand now, I recommend users to at least block all public views of their ratings in WOT profile. What they’ve transferred to the 3rd party has already been done, but I think blocking will prevent cross-linking of users to the data. Also make sure to delete all cookies in browser under name “mywot” and quite frankly, deleting your WOT profile at this point wouldn’t be a bad idea either considering all the weird things going on around this service.
I now prefer avast! rating add-on (avast! Online Security) which comes with avast! Antivirus which I already use. Chrome users can even install it separately via Chrome Store even without avast! Antivirus. There is no commenting, but it has extra features like tracking blocking and the fact that avast! as company is very open about their product. When there were privacy concerns about it, they instantly provided answers to any questions by users. They also in detail explained how their rating and resource sharing system works and you can even opt out sharing of properly anonymized data with 3rd parties.
More links, mostly in German with greater details. Use Google Translate to read them.
In depth information from the researcher who uncovered all this:
Think whatever you want, but something fishy is going on and I’m not going to stand around as the smell spreads. Until developers come clean, this thing should not be on any computer.
I’ll keep you posted how things develop in the following days or weeks…