Anonymous alternatives to popular online services
Many Internet users are becoming increasingly concerned about protecting their online privacy. As a result, online services which provide anonymity have become more popular in recent years. In this article, we'll discuss some alternatives to popular online services which offer a greater degree of anonymity when using the Internet.
Many search engines, including Google, Bing, Yahoo!, Baidu, and Yandex.ru record your identity. They may not know your name, but they identify you by your geographical location, what you shop for, and what your interests are.
But sometimes, your searches include private information you don't want to share with advertisers. Maybe you're searching for information about a personal medical condition, or you want to compare retail prices online — without forever receiving ads for that product.
Anonymous search lets you find information on the Internet without advertisers knowing about your searches.
DuckDuckGo is a search engine whose slogan is, "The search engine that doesn't track you." Their mission is focused on community experience, aiming to represent the interests and experiences of all their users, without tracking any individual user's identity in any way. You can perform a DuckDuckGo search from their homepage, duckduckgo.com.
If you want to get results from a traditional search engine anonymously, you can run those searches from DuckDuckGo. Prefix your DuckDuckGo search with an exclamation mark (!, also called a "bang") and a code for the site you want to search. For instance, to get anonymous Google search results for "computer programming," search DuckDuckGo for:
!g computer programming
For a full list of supported search engines and their DDG bang codes, visit https://duckduckgo.com/bang.
E-mail is one of the oldest services on the Internet, and still one of the most important. Most free e-mail providers advertise to you based the text of your e-mails, and on search queries associated with your e-mail address.
Some users may want to use e-mail without their messages being processed and monetized. The following e-mail providers provide encrypted e-mail that cannot be read by anyone, except for you and your recipient.
Hushmail provides PGP encryption for e-mail and a one-time password for your recipients who do not have a public PGP signature. Launched in 1999, it is a widely-trusted private e-mail service. They provide an encrypted webmail interface and an end-to-end encrypted app for iOS. You can find more information at www.hushmail.com.
An end-to-end encrypted e-mail service launched in 2014 which supports webmail, Android, and iOS clients. Initially crowdfunded, it now has over 2 million users. You can find out more at protonmail.com.
Using anonymous services such as DuckDuckGo can keep your searches private, but your other web browsing can still be tracked by advertisers who partner with the websites you visit. You can reduce the amount of tracking performed on your browsing activity with browser add-ons or anonymize your activity completely with the Tor Browser.
Tor Browser is an open source browser, built on a stripped-down and modified Firefox browser, which accesses the Internet through the encrypted Tor network. Your web requests are relayed to several anonymous servers throughout the world, creating layers of anonymity which conceal your personal, system, and geographic identity. It's available for Windows, macOS X, Linux, and Android. You can find out more and download it at www.torproject.org.
DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials
An add-on for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, iOS, and Android. In addition to integrated DuckDuckGo private search, it provides enhanced tracking protection, allowing you to view who is tracking you, and selectively block them. Also, if an SSL-encrypted version of a website is available, but not offered by default, Privacy Essentials will send you to the encrypted site. All sites you visit are graded from A to F, letting you see at a glance how much your privacy is at risk. For a detailed description and links to all versions of the add-on, visit spreadprivacy.com/privacy-simplified.
uBlock Origin is an open source browser add-on that offers content filtering options to help you control how your browsing is tracked. It's available for Firefox, Chromium (the open source version of Chrome), Edge, and Safari. For more information, including installation instructions, visit github.com/gorhill/uBlock.
A free browser add-on for Firefox, Chrome, and Opera published by the EFF. It focuses on blocking advertisers who ignore the "Do Not Track" option in your browser settings. For more information, visit www.eff.org/privacybadger.
Document sharing and collaboration
Document sharing has become an important part of modern business. Cloud services like Google Docs and Microsoft Office Online allow you to share documents, spreadsheets, and presentations and collaborate on documents in real-time. However, these services are closely tied to Google and Microsoft identification services.
EtherPad is an open source editor which offers a web interface to collaborate in real-time on documents stored in the cloud. Documents are called a "pad," and users can see each other's edits in unique colors and chat with each other. More information is available at the project's homepage, etherpad.org.
Storing files in the cloud is a common practice these days, as it offers continuous synchronization of files across multiple desktop and mobile devices. Services like Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, and Google Drive have become ubiquitous in the business world. However, these services present privacy concerns for some users, because the synchronized files are visible to the service providers.
OwnCloud, Nextcloud, SyncThing
Owncloud, Nextcloud, and SyncThing provide cloud sync that you can run on your server. Because you control the server, the privacy of your files is controlled entirely by you. The obvious trade-off is that you are also responsible for operating and maintaining the server. More information:
A cloud-based file hosting service which uses client-side encryption keys, making it impossible for SpiderOak employees to access the files. It's been in operation since 2007. You can find out more at spideroak.com.
A tool that synchronizes two sets of folders on your computer: they contain the same files, but one is encrypted, and the other remains unencrypted. With CryptSync you can encrypt all files that you upload to another service like Dropbox. More information is available at the project's homepage, tools.stefankueng.com/CryptSync.html.
Voice calls and text messaging
Signal is an end-to-end encrypted communication app for iOS and Android. It provides secure person-to-person and group chat and encrypted voice calling and was famously endorsed by Edward Snowden. Find out more at signal.org.
Wire provides encrypted communications similar to Signal and also provides document collaboration with its integrated encrypted cloud service. More information is available at wire.com.
WhatsApp is a free app that allows you to securely conduct voice and text communications from your iOS or Android smartphone. It can also be installed on tablets. Its homepage is located at whatsapp.com.