What are the best sites and services you can use as an alternative to the biggest players, such as Google, Facebook, etc.? Work in progress and open to suggestions – contact me! More links will be added!
Why is this important? For a good overview of what some call the “surveillance economy” or “surveillance capitalism,” listen to this podcast episode from Mozilla, a company that has been a voice for online privacy for years. Data about you, your habits, patterns and choices are being collected, and then sold just about every time you use a computer or mobile device. There is definitely a reason you see ads for products you recently searched for, or even mentioned out loud or someone else did in range of the microphone on your digital device. While many times that’s a pure coincidence, more often than ever, AI algorithms are piecing together bits of your life to form a complete picture.
Note: Where applicable all links are to US sites and versions of products, unless otherwise indicated.
DuckDuckGo – has the appeal of not sharing your data with Google or anyone else, though recent news suggests that may not be completely true.
Start Page – claims to have the most private search engine
Technical searches – WolframAlpha
A handful of platforms control the overwhelming majority of the social media space. They’ve been to Congress recently. But there are millions of people, and other platforms do exist. Their numbers are growing as more people want to have a place to speak freely and let the community police itself.
- Gab – Launched in 2016.
- CloutHub – I have never found this to work properly. Nothing would load and I couldn’t find people, even persons who I knew had accounts. The last atttempt I gave it was in 2021.
- Telegram – Many recommend downloading the desktop or mobile app directly from Telegram’s website, rather than thru the respective app stores
- GETTR – founded in part by a former Trump advisor, Jason Miller.
Parler – Similar to Twitter, allows up to 1000 characters for slightly longer posts (currently offline after Amazon AWS abruptly terminated their hosting for Parler)Parler was removed from Amazon’s AWS web hosting with insufficient notice for the company to download offline copies of their hosted data. Parler.com immediately went offline, and remained offline until several months later. There are questions about its ownership and purpose, be advised about its use.
- Freedom Social – may be a Trump-sponsored network due to launch sometime in 2022.
Do you want to get rid of Chrome? I can’t help you there, once it’s installed good luck getting rid of all Google components. But you can at least change browsers.
Firefox – Mozilla has a strong commitment to privacy and has spearheaded many features to help reduce tracking.
Bonus: Alternative Internet Routing
Tor and Clearnet provide an ability to more anonymously reach internet destinations. Put simply, instead of going from Point A–B, Tor connects to a network that makes one or more “hops” before reaching Point B. This adds layer(s) of anonymity.
Another alternative-routing internet browser is called Brave.
Did you know even the system used to convert website names (www.standardexcellence.net) into IP addresses (like 10.105.1.21, for example as a local IP) has alternatives? By default, many, if not most routers and computers today are preset to Google’s DNS.
Google’s DNS: 220.127.116.11 and 18.104.22.168
Open DNS: 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199
Quad9: 188.8.131.52, 184.108.40.206 (Secured)
220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168 (Unsecured)
Quad9 IPv6: 2620:fe::fe, 2620:fe::9
Why would you bother changing DNS, and how could it affect your internet experience? For the first part, using Google’s DNS means Google knows where you browse to, even if you don’t use Google’s search engine to get there. The website name still has to be translated to an IP. Using an alternative will diversify your tracking. *Note from 1/9/21: With major tech platforms now banning apps associated with conservative political viewpoints, and more actions surely on the way, yet another reason to change your DNS is that you might not even be able to reach certain sites soon. They can block them entirely from “the web,” as it were, since their systems control 90% of the electronic market.
OpenDNS also offers an adult-filtering DNS that restricts any device behind it from being loaded in the first place. This is really handy if you are someone who does not wish to see adult content on the internet. It can be very difficult to avoid it. Advertisements on an otherwise “clean” page could be found offensive without filtering.
DoH – DNS over HTTPS is another alternative to plain old DNS. Your session might be encrypted with HTTPS, but did you know the traffic routing to get you there isn’t exactly secure? Not unless you use DNS over HTTPS, which is encrypted traffic to lookup DNS. Cloudflare has a service, but let me tell you about NextDNS. They aren’t Cloudflare. In fact, if you use Firefox you might already have DoH active with Cloudflare. Head over to your Settings -> General -> Network settings and look for the section.
Opt Out of Online Tracking
Blocking cookies in your browser. Cookies are used to track certain information about your online browsing, and are not necessarily harmful. Sometimes they keep settings from changing, or perform a similar function. But they also track your behavior so that information can be sold to advertisers, who then use it to target you. They are usually enabled by default. You can remove them, or reject them altogether. The process will vary by browser, but is going to be in the settings. Go to www.allaboutcookies.org for more information.
Mobile Advertising ID. Your mobile device is especially susceptible to tracking. So many apps come preinstalled with their own individual settings and permissions, most people forget and ignore all of it. There are ways to limit the use of your mobile device’s advertising ID, which could involve changing settings or changing apps.
Privacy plug-ins & browsers. You can block cookies from being set with privacy plugins like Privacy Badger, Ghostery or uBlock Origin. A browser previously mentioned, Brave, also does this innately.
Platform opt-outs. Google and Facebook offer opt-out features, too. The terms will change, of course, and this is no guarantee they’ll live up to it, but it’s at least another way to reduce your “tracking footprint” as you browse online.
Advertising industry opt-out tools. Digital Advertising Alliance: http://optout.aboutads.info and Network Advertising Initiative: http://optout.networkadvertising.org/?c=1 offer ways to opt out of a network of ads. I don’t know much about these but it may be the networks large corps use to buy a pool of ads. Say a marketing manager wants to spend $20,000 on a promotion, but doesn’t want it all to go through AdSense, what does she do? Probably reach out to a broker who will distribute the funds across multiple platforms. This is how a lot of on-page ads are delivered on content-rich sites such as news sites.