Pro-privacy apps that are easy to use and don't break your workflow

Software tools I recommend.

It’s likely that you’ve had at least one person urge you to use software or apps that respect your privacy, and that you shouldn’t trust the likes of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and more. However, privacy-respecting software tools often aren’t easy to use and don’t fit into your workflow without friction. As a person who likes software with good defaults, I agree.

But I care about my privacy too, which is why I spend a lot of time trying multiple pro-privacy tools to find ones which just work. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of such tools that fit my needs as a science writer.

Operating Systems

The best way to get rid of corporate and government tracking is to swap the operating system on your computer and smartphone to less invasive ones.

Desktop/Laptop

An Apple Mac computer is a great pro-privacy replacement for Windows that just works. But if you can’t afford one, or just don’t need it, Linux is the next best choice.

Many consider installing and using Linux a daunting endeavor. But these days Linux is easy to install, works on plenty of hardware combinations out of the box, has a reasonably large selection of apps, and doesn’t require you to touch the command line. I don’t recommend Ubuntu anymore, and instead suggest you use elementary OS, Pop_OS or Linux Mint for a well-rounded experience.

Smartphone

Again, if you can afford it, get an iPhone. It’s far more privacy respecting than Google’s Android will ever be, simply because of the business model of both companies.

If an iPhone is too expensive for you, or you just prefer Android, get a phone with stock Android––the likes of Nokia, Motorola, Pixel, etc. rather than ones with custom UIs such as from Realme, Xiaomi, Samsung, OnePlus, etc. This will reduce your system level privacy invasion to just one company, Google, instead of the phone manufacturer spying on you too.

A deal with Google, the devil, is practically unavoidable if you’re using an Android. You may consider installing LineageOS on your phone to get rid of excessive Google tracking. But it’s not without its disadvantages––camera performance and/or other critical features typically take a hit on such custom ROMs.

Browser

Given the sheer amount of time people spend on browsers, changing that instead would perhaps be more effective and practical than having to swap operating systems. And for that, just use Firefox.

Firefox works incredibly well both on Desktop and mobile, blocks invasive trackers by default, has useful features like sync and neat extensions, and generally boasts enhanced privacy out of the box. You can import bookmarks, history and saved passwords from other browsers to get started.

If you are using an Apple device, Safari has similar benefits as Firefox, and is quite swift and nice. I use Safari because I prefer its interface over Firefox.

Apps

  1. DuckDuckGo over Google search—No tracking, period. And you’ll love the bangs!

  2. Telegram over WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger—Telegram has excellent Desktop apps that you can never go back from.

  3. ProtonMail and Fastmail over Gmail, Outlook or Yahoo. If you still want to use Gmail because it’s so convenient, use Google’s more featured G Suite instead which is relatively more private and secure than standard Gmail.

  4. OnlyOffice over MS Office and Google Docs—It’s fast, opens office files in tabs instead of windows, works offline, and is available both on Desktop and phones. Personally, I can’t let go of Google Docs’ convenience as a writer but OnlyOffice should work fine for most people.

  5. SSDs/Hard Drives over Google Drive and Dropbox for data backups, because nothing beats the reliability, speed and security of a local backup. Seriously.

  6. Simplenote and Workflowy over Google Keep and Evernote—Available on all platforms and is no fuss to use. If you’re using an Apple device, Apple Notes is nice and fast.

With such privacy-respecting software as easy to use as any other, you should care about your digital footprints. And it’s not because you don’t have “Nothing to hide”, but because your privacy is tied to your individuality. Giant tech corporations have been abusing our privacy for monetary and political gains, and it must stop or we lose who we are.