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The Best Privacy-Friendly Apps & Services For 2016

by Grey One •

This is a guide to private-friendly apps and services. I’ve only included reliable and easy-to-use services. They will help you:

  • Connector.

    Avoid Leaks and Hacks

    Reduce the risk of having personal information hacked or leaked

  • Connector.

    Reduce Information Collection

    These apps will block marketing companies from collecting information about you

  • Connector.

    Reduce Surveillance

    You’ll also reduce the surveillance of your activities

Private Search Engines

DuckDuckGo: Private Search Engine

Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo record your web searches and link your web searches together.

The Solution: Use a non-tracking search engine like DuckDuckGo (with StartPage as a backup).

Cost: Free

DuckDuckGo is a search engine with a focus on privacy. It’s not as comprehensive as Google, but it provides good independent results.

As a backup, you can use StartPage which allows you to search privately on Google, Bing or Yahoo.

Private Web Browsers

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 3.23.35 PM

The Problem: Web browsers like Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Safari are not privacy-friendly.

The Solution: Use a secure, open-source web browser like Firefox with privacy-mode turned on.

Cost: Free

Firefox is a reliable browser that protects your privacy. I recommend using it with these add-ons installed: HTTPs Everywhere and uBlock Origin.

Alternatively, you can use Chromium, which is an open-source browser similar to Google’s Chrome.

If you want to browse anonymously, you can use the Tor Browser Bundle. It is a free application that is available for Windows, Macs and Linux. See my article on Tor for more details.

Private Email

Fastmail (screenshot)

The Problem: Gmail, MS Outlook and Yahoo Mail automatically scan your email.

The Solution: Use FastMail instead, and use MailDrop to generate temporary email addresses.

You can use an independent email service like FastMail. Based in Australia, the service has been running for 15 years, and they have a good privacy policy regarding email storage. Their prices start at $10 per year.

Fastmail is designed for email privacy not email anonymity. The company states:

  • we use encrypted SMTP for sending your mail when the receiving server supports it
  • we mandate encrypted access for webmail, IMAP and POP
  • we use Perfect Forward Secrecy where possible for all encrypted connections
  • we encrypt all email while at rest on our servers
  • we encrypt communications between our data centers

For most people Fastmail is good enough. However, if you need extra security, you may want to look into the providers listed below.

More Private — Encrypted Email Providers

Tutanota is an encrypted email provider that uses open-source software.

Kolab Now is hosted in Switzerland and benefits from the strong Swiss privacy laws. It is run exclusively with free software and using the service supports the development of Kolab Now. Also, it lets you export all your data at any time.

Avoiding Spam

MailDrop is an open-source service that allows you to create temporary emails, thus allow you to control spam. You can give these emails out companies that you don’t yet trust.

Trashmail is similar to MailDrop — but it offers a paid service with additional filtration features.

For a mail client, I recommend the open-source Thunderbird email client with JunQuila add-on to control spam.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)

The Problem: Your ISP and other organizations can monitor your online activities.

The Solution: Use a virtual private network (VPN) service like ExpressVPN.

ExpressVPN is a virtual private network (VPN) service that is fast and reliable. It’s my top pick for a VPN (see more details here). Prices are $58 per year, or $9 per month.

Encrypted Cloud Storage

Seafile Screenshot

The Problem: Cloud storage providers like Dropbox and Google Drive do not encrypt your files.

The Solution: Use an encrypted cloud storage provider like Seafile.

Difficulty Level: Easy to Medium (you need to set up a new cloud service, and copy files to a new cloud)

It doesn’t make sense to store unencrypted files on a server. It makes them available to company employees and potential hackers.

I recommend Seafile — it’s an open source cloud storage platform cloud provider. All the files you upload to the Seafile cloud are encrypted before they leave your computer, and Seafile never has access to your encryption keys. The price of the service is $10 per month.

Note: Previously, I was recommending SpiderOak, but after further testing I found the apps to be too problematic.

Private Instant Messaging

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 3.15.36 PM

The Problem: Your text messages are not encrypted and may be recorded.

The Solution: Use Telegram instead — a private messaging application.

Cost: Free

Telegram is a messaging app with a focus on speed and privacy. It works for user seeking casual privacy. If you need more privacy than Telegram, see these apps:

ChatSecure is a free Android app that provides secure text messaging. The same app is called Signal on iPhones.

Wickr is a free app (iPhone and Android) that allows you to send self-destructing, private messages to your friends. You can send text messages, video and audio messages.

Password Managers

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Password managers allow you to create strong, unique passwords for all your website accounts. They can also automatically log you into websites, thus preventing key-logging (attempts to capture your keystrokes and hence your passwords).

An excellent password manager is LastPass which includes a “secure note” feature. The premium version of LastPass costs $12 per year.

Another alternative is Keypass. It’s a free, open source password manager. However, you must do your own file syncing between devices (using your own cloud storage).

Privacy-Friendly Operating Systems

Elementary OS Screenshot

I recommend the Linux operating system. This free OS has many useful privacy features and applications. If you’ve never used Linux before, I recommend using the Elementary OS distribution. It was designed to replicate features found in Windows and OS X.

Linux distributions are maintained by technical users around the world, so they tend to be less vulnerable to malware.

You can get a computer with Linux pre-installed from a vendor such as ThinkPenguin (just tell them to install Elementary OS on your computer).

Privacy-Friendly Mobile Devices

The Blackphone 2 (Screenshot)

Most mobile devices are not designed with privacy in mind. If you need an extra level of security, you can make use of a device like the Blackphone. This smartphone has it’s own privacy-centric operating system. Thus, the phone does not leak data to a carrier. It has comes with an encrypted phone service, secure messaging and many other security-oriented features. It sells for around $800.

Other Information Sources

  • Prism Break provides a well-researched list of software that can help you opt of of surveillance.
  • AlternativeTo provides lists of software that can replace your existing software with better, more open substitutes. This well-organized site allows people to vote on the software choices.
  • The Best Self Hosted Alternatives provides a list of cloud software that your can run yourself
  • The book Data and Goliath (by Bruce Schneier) provides a great overview of the companies and organization tracking you.

Comments 21

  1. the prices for ThinkPenguin notebooks are between 700-900 us dollars before tax and the desktops are 500 u.s dollars before tax. does that seem pricey just to be sure Linux is installed on your computer?

    1. Installing Linux is difficult for many people, so it might be worth it for the convenience. Perhaps someone can let me know of Linux vendor with better prices?

  2. ‘Blur’ has many of the functions that are recommended on this site. Any comments on this operation?

    1. I used to recommend Blur, but I found that their products often didn’t work correctly, and their customer service was awful.

  3. really good article covering all the bases. I think the use of Linux solves so many threats that are tied to Windows and it is a constant arms race trying to keep windows secure.

  4. I discovered GREYCODER about a month ago and I definitely appreciate all the research and thought that has been expended on a great many privacy and security topics … plus all contributions by many others in the comments! Thank you!

  5. I was wondering is it still worthwhile to use a VPN when I read on endgaget that NSA had special tools to monitor encrypted VPN messages?

    1. It is possible that the NSA has sophisticated de-encryption abilities. If you are concerned about this, I’d advise you to look for providers that offer high levels of encryption, and read up on other methods of obfuscation.

  6. Can you provide a little more background on the comment about SPider Oak’s apps being problematical? Is it the app or the security that is an issue? Also, what is your opinion of CrashPlan? I’ve seen lots of good reviews about it as a backup service. Although it is not zero knowledge like SpiderOak or Seafile, it appears that you can generate an encryption key. Thanks, as always, for your good work!

  7. What’s your opinion of 1Password as compared to LastPass? I haven’t used KeyPass, but one issue I have with LastPass is that it’s not intuitive in terms of ensuring that you are completely logged off when you close the browser window. It took me awhile to figure out how to set it up so that a login was required each time I re-opened the browser and even then it hasn’t been consistent in shutting down the app — which then leads to a security flaw.

    1. I like 1Password but it only recently became available for Windows and Android. I like Keypass but it requires technical knowledge to sync it correct.

      Are you using Lastpass with a browser? It shuts down when the browser shuts down.

      1. Thanks for the reply; I’m on a Mac so have used 1Password for almost 10 years and love both the security and the support from the company itself. I like that it has a full featured app for mobile devices — recently my computer AND wireless external backup were stolen (along with all my credit cards) and having 1Password on my mobile was what enabled me to easily contact all the card companies, banks, etc., and get online access to my accounts.

        I do use LastPass with Firefox on a friend’s computer where I occasionnally work. My experience has been that, when I reopen the browser, LP is still running, even if it’s been weeks since I accessed it before. Could just be that computer/browser, but I now manually log out each time before I close the browser itself. Apart from that I enjoy LP’s functionality, but feel a bit uncertain about it’s security.

  8. Thanks for this info!

    For password management, I like Keepass http://keepass.info/, possibly with the relevant browser add-on to connect it to the browser.

    As a mail provider, I recommend Posteo (http://www.posteo.de). It’s a German mail provider (Berlin) that takes privacy (and sustainability) very seriously. Cost: from 1 EUR/month (you can even pay cash).

  9. When I was looking for a new email provider, I checked out Fastmail. One thing that I did not like about the service is that when using Thunderbird, they showed my real IP address (both my private IP address on my network as well as my public IP address) in the header information. For this reason, I would not recommend Fastmail.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. Fastmail is not designed to be an anonymous email provider. I recommend it as a privacy-friendly provider that doesn’t scan you emails.

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