Did you know that in many cases, anyone can do a simple web search of your name or phone number and find your home address, family members’ names, and other personal information—for free? Most people are either oblivious to this, or they know but simply don’t care. For those who do care, there are steps you can take to protect your personal information.
Your smartphone goes everywhere with you, and contains all of your most sensitive information. With every digital purchase or online account set-up, your personal information is being gathered and shared—often sold. It will soon be on countless websites for any identity thief, ex-lover, stalker, or any random person who might be curious about who you are and where you live.
So, what can you do to prevent this? The five smartphone apps described in this article help you to secure your data and provide an important layer of privacy for your life. Going completely off the digital grid isn’t a quick or cheap process, but it can be done with some effort.
The first basic step is to stop willingly putting your information out there. This can be done largely by changing your social media and online shopping habits. Assuming your personal information is already exposed, there are manual steps and third-party tools to ensure that it’s removed from public space. Then, keep it from getting back out there by using aliases, disinformation, and anonymous purchases—all through legal methods.
Some people say “I have nothing to hide” as if to say they’ve done nothing wrong. While that may be true, those people also surely appreciate their rights to personal security and privacy. As illustrated in The Complete Privacy & Security Desk Reference, if you truly have nothing to hide, would you send me your email username and password? Don’t needlessly have your personal information shared for public access and put yourself at risk.
It isn’t reasonable for law enforcement, military, and government personnel to expect private companies or government agencies to protect your identity and information. Consider what former Google CEO Eric Schmidt stated about that company’s stance on your privacy: “A person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.”
While there are many phases of privacy and security, use The Complete Privacy & Security Desk Reference to evaluate your situation and determine which level of security suits you. Also modify your online habits—such as not posting sensitive information on social media and using social media platforms to establish internet shopping accounts—and locking down security settings on your personal computer and smartphone. The most important basic smartphone changes are to increase your PIN to eight or more characters, modify your default privacy settings, and delete any vulnerable apps.
The following apps, in conjunction with the important steps detailed in the book, will help to keep your personal information from being easily accessed by unwanted parties.
1. Private Internet Access (PIA) VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) functions by passing your internet traffic through a secure tunnel. This encrypts your data and makes it worthless to third-party predators. Another added benefit of a VPN is that websites have a difficult time tracking you and gathering data on your activities.
Signal Private Messenger is a free end-to-end encrypted communication application. With this app, you can perform secure voice calls and text messaging. It requires no personal information to set up the app aside from a phone number for verification.
For extra security and anonymity, you should use a “burner” phone number or Google Voice number to associate with Signal. While the app doesn’t obscure the names and numbers of contacts from companies like Google, its primary benefit is protecting the actual contents of your voice and text data transmissions.
ProtonMail is an encrypted email service. Basic (free) accounts are allotted 1GB mailboxes. Unlike Google, Microsoft, and other email hosting giants, ProtonMail is fully encrypted and firmly against the sharing and selling of your information.
ProtonMail allows users to set self-destruct times on sent emails and offers features such as two-factor authentication, aliases, custom domains, and additional storage.
As the name indicates, this app allows you to compartmentalize your life by creating “pseudo” email addresses and phone numbers. Depending on the plan you subscribe to, you can have up to nine unique phone numbers and email addresses—without ever having to associate your real name and information to them. If you want to have one for your utilities, one for friends and family, one for Craigslist sales, and another for catching junk email and SPAM calls, you can do that all with end-to-end encryption.
MySudo puts an end to sharing your personal cell phone number—which is tied to your home address, Social Security number, and other vital information—and email address with everyone.
5. Firefox Focus
Companies love to gather, buy, and sell your data. One of the ways they collect this information is through “cookies,” established on every site you visit. A cookie captures your location, browsing history, and site activity.
Firefox is a popular browser, and it arguably offers the highest level of control over your security settings. If you don’t want to mess with a long list of security settings to modify, simply install the Firefox Focus app, which blocks most online trackers for you and allows you to easily erase history, passwords, and cookies so that your browser activity stays out of the wrong hands.