A Privacy Guide For Biden Times

While there’s a good chance President Trump will be able to successfully challenge the Election Day vote results and secure a second term, there’s always the possibility he may not. In case he doesn’t, or even if Trump does prevail, tech giants could still continue messing with users who do not match their ideology. It is important to have back ups and I have some ideas on what you can do to protect yourself. What I am about to suggest does not have to be done all at once, but implemented as much as you can.

Regardless if you are an Microsoft, Apple or Android user, the fact is all three companies can reach in to your computers, smartphones, or tablets via its operating system and somehow restrict or monitor what you are doing. All three manufacturers own the operating systems of your technological devices so that can give them license to invade your privacy.

As an aside, I prefer open source applications and products. With open source, people knowledgeable about source code can peer review them, warn people if there’s anything wrong, or suggest to improvements to their developers. However, there are many open source applications that aren’t as good as pre-installed or proprietary ones so your mileage may vary. Overall, I have been able to narrow down issues to the ones I consider vital that could come up over the next few months.

If you own an iPhone or iPad, I would suggest switching to Android since you can completely replace an Android phone’s operating system to avoid Google’s nonsense. Apple computers and some of their iPhones have this capability too as some Linux distros for them exist. However, Linux distros for iPhones is still in its infancy and that usually means complications. Replacing your Mac computer for a Windows-based one would be advisable since there are more customization options and the longevity of Linux development around Microsoft’s operating system.

So far, the best operating system (OS) to replace Android is Graphene. It is a very secure, free, and open source. GrapheneOS does come with it’s own apps but you can download another application repository called F-Droid that carries all open source applications including one named Aurora Store that enables users to anonymously access Google’s play store.*

A very good how-to video on uploading and using Graphene is here. If Graphene is not for you, Calyx looks very secure and there is also Lineage but it doesn’t seem as safe as the two former options*. Also, switching cell phone plans might be something to consider as well in which Patriot, U.S. Mobile, and Mint Mobile seem to provide good service and are reasonably priced.

If you use free email services, such as Gmail or Yahoo!, your emails can be scanned by the hosting company and sold to advertisers or stored in their servers. To avoid this, I highly recommend Protonmail or Tutanota. Both providers are open source, have very good encryption, and security protection. The two are also free but provide enhanced features for yearly fees in which both email providers are priced well for what they offer customers.

If you would rather wait and see what happens, a good idea in the interim would be to download a few applications to use on your Android or iPhone just to be safe:

1) For Android users, replace or disable Chrome with Bromite, DuckDuckGo, Firefox, Firefox Focus, or Brave. While Bromite, Brave, and DuckDuckGo are Chrome-based browsers, respectfully, all five are centered on privacy and security. It also might be a good idea to use Firefox, Bromite, or Brave for accounts and DuckDuckGo or Firefox Focus for random searches. If you use Apple, Safari is your best bet since the company gives its browser preference resulting from Apple’s rendering engine.

2) If possible, replace your texting and phone application with Signal or use it as a back up. Signal is free, open source, and encrypted. It is very hard if not impossible for anyone to monitor your calls and texts when you use it.

3) Reduce the amount of apps you have on your mobile devices and replace as many as you can with applications that are open source from F-Droid or, if you have an iPhone or iPad, from alt-store which is repository for open source apps for Apple devices.

4) Replace Google or Apple note taking apps with Standard Notes. Your inner-most thoughts or pieces of information you’d rather not share can be accessed through note taking applications, such as Google Keep. Standard Notes is a cloud-based, free, open source, and encrypted note taking application that can keep away spying eyes.

5) Use as many alternatives to Google and Apple products as you can. For example, Google’s search engine is the most used and is said to provide the best search results. But you can use Startpage which acts as an intermediary so you get Google’s results without the tracking. Also, Simple Mobile Tools is a suite of free and paid open source Android apps you can replace most of your core Android applications with.

6) Use strong passwords and 2 factor authentication. These two methods are vital to securing your computer and mobile devices. Doing this makes it difficult for prying eyes to spy into your bank accounts, or other websites, and apps where you have sensitive information. The easiest and most secure password app to use is Bitwarden, While there are a wide variety of authenticator apps, the most well known and recommended is Authy. On Android, however, I like andOTP and Aegis. YubiKeys are also an option, but they can get pricey and not many websites or applications use them despite supposedly being more secure.

7) Use a VPN or a no-root firewall (but not both). A VPN does not keep you anonymous but, if used properly, can be a great tool to protect you from miscreants who want to snoop in on what your doing on your computerized devices. Since there are so many, an excellent chart to help you decide which VPN is best for you is here. My personal favorites are Mullvad and IVPN. A no-root firewall uses its own VPN to help restrict and monitor apps on your mobile device in order to warn you if they end up using data or calling home with information about you. The best firewall for Android is Netguard while Lockdown is top-notch for Apple. Both firewalls are free and open source with in-app enhancements for purchase that are reasonably priced.

If you presently use Windows and don’t have the stomach or cannot change your computer’s operating system, you can download W10 Privacy or Windows Spy Blocker to avoid or restrict its numerous privacy-invading ways. It would be wise to encrypt your computer files too, in which Windows 10 Pro comes with encryption. However, Veracrypt can be downloaded on Windows or Apple computers if you’d prefer an alternative.

Three Linux-based operating systems you can replace Windows with that I like are Ubuntu, Fedora, and Qubes. But if you are someone who regularly uses Windows and wants to switch, Ubuntu or Fedora might be good to start off with before using Qubes which is more difficult.

For Windows desk or laptop browsers, Brave, or Firefox are excellent choices. Primarily using either of these or both to compartmentalize your browsing will help reduce the risk of being followed by trackers and even hackers or other wrongdoers. Both browsers are not only open source, but have mobile versions with encrypted synchronization features that you can utilize if you use their desktop versions too. Best of all, you can avoid not only using Google Chrome but also Microsoft’s new, privacy invading Edge browser.

However, Firefox needs to be tweaked in order to strengthen its privacy protections, as opposed to Brave where they are built in. Despite this, however, a hardened Firefox tends to be more secure than Brave. Despite it being proprietary, however, I suggest Apple users to stick with Safari as your primary browser because of the advantages I mention above. Using a privacy-focused browser in addition to Safari on your Mac computer along with your mobile devices would be a good idea too.

A Biden Administration will ensure the left’s lock on the U.S.’s political system and will mean more persecution and oppression of their opposition, including technology companies using their technological devices to assist the left to achieve their aim. Regardless if Biden or Trump prevail, since your mobile devices and computers are an extension of you, it’s best to plan for what could come to protect yourself.

Hopefully, none of what I write about will happen. Unfortunately, the likelihood of decreased privacy and persecution of the Left’s opponents is more certain since Joe Biden will be in bed with Big Tech, if he is victorious. If you haven’t taken much interest in your overall privacy and security, now would be a good time to start. I hope the suggestions I outline are of benefit to you and give you a good basis to gain more knowledge about technology and privacy.

PHOTO CREDIT: Image by Dan Nelson from Pixabay.

ADDENDUM 11/17/2020: Some people have suggested Tor, but I do not recommend using it due to the reasons outlined here.

*NOTE 01/21/2021: If replacing the operating system of your Android or Apple smartphone is too difficult, consider buying a new or refurbished one from the /e/ foundation.

UPDATE 01/31/2021: If you would like to go more in depth with what is laid out in this essay, Techlore is a very good resource that has a number of privacy and security courses and reviews you can watch on his YouTube channel.