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Digital Literacy

Digital Detox 3: Using privacy-oriented web tools

by Amy Slay, pedagogical consultant for DLINQ

Our lives play out in digital arenas. Our identities and relationships, personal and professional, are simultaneously supported and endangered by the internet. While the digital can be a place for connection, expression, and activism, it also presents deeply troubling threats. Hackers steal and manipulate information; trolls harass and intimidate behind a veil of anonymity; the NSA’s warrantless surveillance of American citizens persists; and companies commodify us by collecting, mining, and selling behemoth amounts of data generated by our online activity. When we surf the web, message our friends, or accept the terms and conditions of a new app, the safety of our data is in the hands of the owners of those spaces and tools, despite the fact that there is little accountability for how our data are collected and (not) protected.

Here are some actions you can take to protect yourself by being intentional and critical in your use of digital tools and platforms:

  • Browse privately on your devices. When it comes to privacy, not all web-browsers are created equal. Use an open-source browser like Mozilla Firefox, or go anonymous with Tor browser. There is also an app specifically designed for iOS (Apple) devices, called the Onion browser. While popular browsers like Chrome and Safari have a private browsing option, this “simply keeps your computer from keeping a record of where you go. It doesn’t stop sites from tracking and collecting data on you, and doesn’t do anything to protect your online privacy or security. It does, however, keep anyone using your computer from knowing where you went” (Source: Bromwich, 2016).
  • Protect your clicks, page visits, searches, and location information from spyware and trackers by installing an adblocker like Privacy Badger.
  • Take encryption to the next level with a virtual private network (VPN). “A VPN creates a private, encrypted connection… all of your internet activity gets “tunneled” through this private network… When you access a website with a VPN connection, the website will see the request coming from the VPN server, not you. Someone trying to see what was being passed between your computer and the VPN server won’t be able to see what you’re doing: it’s all encrypted” (Source: A DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity). Most VPN service providers charge a fee, but there are also some free alternatives.

As your approach to digital privacy evolves, remember that using new tools (or using old tools differently) may take some getting used to. Adjusting to new digital safety practices and interfaces may be uncomfortable at first, but well worth the effort.

Keep reading!

Me and My Shadow, Alternative App Centre: A collection of open-source tools, apps and services recommended by Tactical Technology Collective for better privacy and control

Electronic Frontier Foundation, Choosing your tools

Bromwich, Protecting your digital life in 9 easy steps

HACK*BLOSSOM, Find the right tools for your security needs

HACK*BLOSSOM, A DIY guide to feminist cybersecurity

Did you complete any part of this activity? Tell us about it!

 

Reflection
What small changes can you make in your daily web-based practices that will better secure your data and digital identity? What step(s) would have the most immediate positive impact on your safety and overall peace of mind? If you have children: How can these tools better protect their data as they engage with content on the web?
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