In some countries, you aren’t allowed to surf freely on the internet. Sites are censored, your traffic is monitored, your privacy and freedom are limited. Tools like the Tor browser help to bypass these internet blockades, but they rely on Tor-proxies. Running a Tor proxy takes some dedication and a certain technical background, but with the Snowflake project, anyone can help and be a part of the Tor network without effort.
All it takes is installing the Snowflake plugin in your browser, and you are set. When it’s active, you’ll be a middle-man getting restricted content from the web to censored users using the Tor browser. Don’t worry, there’s never a direct connection between you and whoever requested the page. It’s all routed through the Tor network, which anonymizes the traffic.
The plugin works on Chrome and Firefox. If you want more detailed info, check out the Tor wiki. You can even run a standalone version in Docker if you want to go full geek. ;)
So if you feel like giving some authoritarian dictator the finger, go ahead and install the plugin in your browser.
Facebook is probably the worst social media company out there, so it makes sense you don’t want their apps on your phone. But unfortunately your less privacy concerned friends are all gleefully using Facebook and Messenger and you don’t want to miss out.
I understand your pain. Here’s a simple guide to still use Zuck’s book on your phone, without the dreaded apps.
Step 1: get a new browser app
We’re going to use the mobile site, which works quite well. To separate all the Facebook traffic from our regular surfing habits and keep Zuck from snooping on us, we’ll use a completely different browser app.
Head over to the Google Play Store and search for “browser“. You’ll see a big list of browser apps, so you just have to pick one you’re not currently using. You are most likely using Chrome as your main browser, or the Samsung browser if you have a Samsung phone, so you can go for Firefox or the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser as your alternative. Both are good browsers, and I’ve used them both for faking the Facebook. I even use Firefox as my main browser.
Step 2: open your newly acquired browser app, and surf to facebook.com.
After you log in, you’ll be able to use the mobile site pretty much like the app. Now, since this is a separate browser, you just leave your Facebook tab open. Next time you start your dedicated browser app for Facebook, you’ll be logged in already. Easy-peasy. Just don’t use this browser for anything else. If you do, Zuck will be able to follow you around on every site that has anything enabled related to Facebook or Instagram.
Step 3: set up messenger.
Messenger sucks because they want to force you to install the app when you use the mobile site to check your messages. There is a way around this though. Messenger still works on the desktop site aka your PC/laptop right? So we just have to tell Facebook we’re using that from our phone. You can do this by going to facebook.com in a second tab on your new browser. Now, you click the 3 dot-menu in the menu bar and activate the “Desktopsite” checkbox. The page will refresh and look pretty much the same, but now it thinks you’re visiting it from a desktop PC. Now open the Facebook hamburger menu, choose Messenger and voilà, there you have all your messages and contacts.
The trick is to leave this second tab open on your phone as well, so you have quick access to your messages whenever you like. After not using it for a while, you might end up with a message telling you to install the app again. This is because the tab refreshed and is back in mobile-mode. When this happens, just go back into the 3-dot menu of your browser and check the “Desktopsite” checkbox again. After reloading the page, you’re set again. A minor inconvenience for the added privacy of not having Zuck’s spy-apps on your phone if you ask me. ;)
Step 4: change the icon.
If you want to get fancy, now is the time to long-press the icon of your now dedicated Facebook-browser app and change the icon to… the Facebook icon perhaps? I also change the name to something more appropriate, like Fakebook for example.
Step 5: convince your friends to not use Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is on the fore-front when it comes to defending our digital rights. Even as a European I think they are doing important work even though they are mostly US centric. This because whatever happens in the US ripples over the pond and affects Europe and the rest of the world anyway. That means that next to larger fast-food portions increased digital surveillance is on its way to the EU as well.
Next to protecting our digital rights they are the author of a number of awesome security plugins and tools like the HTTPS Everywhere and Privacy Badger browser plugins and a driving force behind the Let’s Encrypt free web site certificate tool set.
With the whole NSA PRISM storm blowing over the internet I thought it would be nice to compile a list of free and open source software I know that can help in safeguarding your privacy as an alternative to proprietary software or online cloud services which are not to be trusted with your personal data.
Hosting everything yourself is one way to go like the folks at unhosted.org suggest, but it isn’t free as it will a) cost you some money and b) usually quite some time to set everything up. Not everyone has the technical knowledge to do this either, so a list of open source software and trustworthy services for the masses would be great.
Turns out prism-break.org is just that kind of list, so that saves me the trouble of compiling it myself. Nice. Here’s another one with mostly the same items on it. Mostly.
The search bubble. That thing where Google puts you in so your results are tailored to your preferences and habits. It’s kinda creepy and cool at the same time isn’t it? One of DuckDuckGo‘s main features is that they don’t put you in a bubble. So they don’t track your past queries, they don’t spy on your social media accounts to figure out what you read, like or retweet and they don’t tailor your results.
This video shows pretty nicely what that Google bubble looks like btw.
Scary isn’t it? The problem is however… it works so damn good too.
I know my results are customized, but when I look for .NET related stuff (which I do all the time at work for example) whatever I’m looking for is usually in the top 3. I know it’s biased, but heck, it works like a charm.
Outside of the bubble, I get more stuff I don’t want or isn’t what I’m looking for.
So it all depends on what you want doesn’t it? But it is a good thing to know that the bubble is there and that it learns from your queries. It’s also good to know that you can escape the bubble if you want to. And just logging out of your Google account probably isn’t good enough.