Rethinking My Life (On The Internets)

2015-01-30 - recommend Privacy Badger rather than Ghostery which uses the data it collects from its users to help advertisers

The Internets. This wonderful land where everything is free, public, and… persistent. LOL

I often carefully chose what I put online: comments, documents, pictures, etc. I wrote often here because it took me a while to educate myself, to learn and understand the implications of my behavior on Internet. I started using Internet when I was 18-ish, because of my studies to be honest, since I was not much interested in anything over IP at that time.

Fighting Technology Enslavement

By the end of 2013, I unsubscribed myself from most of the mailing-lists I had subscribed to in the past, and basically turned off all notifications, including phone notifications (Twitter, Facebook, Emails, etc.). I moved from a push approach to a pull approach: I decide when I want to consume information, not the other way around, so that I can keep focused on what I am doing. I don’t need to be notified in real time. I don’t want to. When we analyze such a situation, one reads his Twitter notifications because his own smartphone told him to do so. What a weird feeling isn’t it? This is exactly what technology enslavement is. I am part of this generation of (young) people who can hang out in a pub, all focused on their smartphone for whatever (bad) reason (most of the time, Candy Crush…), no one talking to each other, not verbally I mean. I educated myself to avoid this, to live without smartphone or laptop, and to truly start to live life to the full. Call me nerd or whatever you want, I know too many muggles (read non-[IT|nerd|geek|tech] people) who do that…

Things went really well! I became more efficient, I get things done, and I did not miss any important event. What was the difference then? Less stress, more time to dedicate to things that matter such as family, friends and hobbies.

Just. Delete. Me.

Last year, I started to reduce the amount of web services I was using or rather, I thought I would use. was great help! I listed all services I was still using, and I deleted or disabled the other ones.

Now we are in 2015 and I began to accomplish something I wanted to do for a while now: taking care of my personal data, for real. Too late? No, it is better late than never.

Taking Control of My Personal Data

First, I want to control which companies can access my personal data, meaning I agree with their terms and conditions (so things must be crystal clear, which is not often the case). Second, I don’t want to be a product anymore. Third, I want to be more respectful with people connected to me, by not giving their personal information to companies without asking them. Of course they probably do that with my information already, but I am aware of this and I can live with it.

As I don’t use a lot of applications, switching to better services in term of reliability and privacy implies three major pieces: emails, agendas and contacts. All hosted on this good old friend: Google. I tried to move away from Google, I swear it! Several times. But this month, I decided to take a new year resolution to avoid giving up again.

Emails, Contacts, Agendas

I started by buying my own domain name for my emails: It is both short and quite easy to remember. Also, take my name, remove vowels, concatenate .me and you are done! See the use of a domain name you control as an abstraction layer, you can put any email hosting service behind it, your contacts will still be able to reach you. I don’t know why I did not do that earlier actually… Then, I created new aliases and changed my email everywhere. I reconfigured Gmail to send my new personal email as Reply-To email’s header, so that it is being spread slowly but surely.

Then, based on recommandations, I chose Fastmail (affiliate link) to take care of my emails, and I am happy to pay for it! It is blazing fast, it works and it perfectly fits my needs. Importing all my emails from Gmail took half a day. At the time of writing this article, Gmail forwards all emails to Fastmail, and I now exclusively use it. Fastmail takes the privacy of their users very seriously, no data mining, a clear privacy policy and it is an Australian company subject to Australian law (even if their servers are in the US).

Fastmail also provides an Address Book feature in beta. It works pretty well so I moved all my contacts from Gmail to Fastmail. I also switched from Google Calendar to Fastmail Calendar. Oh and they also provide a secure platform for file sharing through WebDAV. Tip top!

Instant Messaging

I often use GTalk, replacing it is not easy because of my contacts, but also because most of the existing IM solutions are tied to corporations (Facebook, Google, etc.). The main issue is that GTalk conversations are indexed by Google in Gmail, meaning these conversations are not really private.

As suggested by Josh, using Adium and firing up OTR-encryption is a wise solution. Because I can’t force my friends to use a secure communication channel, I am forced to consider IM conversations in the public domain. If one of my contacts uses a client supporting OTR, we will have private conversations though.

Web Browsing

My main web browser is Chrome, and I am not going to change it. What I did however has been to completely remove any link to my Google account. I lost all my bookmarks in the fight, and I realized that this was not a problem. Who uses bookmarks nowadays anyway? ;-) I also disabled all speed improvement features that use Google web services.

I configured Chrome to use DuckDuckGo, rather than Google. It is going well so far, but I am not going to definitely avoid Google. That is why I installed Privacy Badger, a free privacy-related browser extension, enabling its users to easily detect and control web bugs. As suggested by Josh again, I also installed HTTPS Everywhere to ensure that my web browser establishes a secure connection to websites that support it. This is more or less the client version of HSTS.

For fun, I also gave the Tor Browser a try, a bit too slow but still quite good. I don’t plan to use yet, but it may be useful if things turn worse than expected here in France…

What Else?

For years, I helped Google track you by using Google Analytics. I do apologize for that. I switched to Piwik last month thanks to Geoffrey, and I now recommend it over Google Analytics.

I am now looking for alternatives to Disqus for the same reasons, but it is a bit complicated since this blog is basically static HTML, hosted on GitHub. If you have suggestions, comments (on Disqus, haha!) are open :)

Last but not least, I did not talk about PGP. I don’t really use it yet (my public key), mainly because I don’t really know who really uses it: my parents don’t, my friends don’t. That is why projects such as Caliopen are more than interesting! Since I own a PGP key, I use OSX’s mail client + GPGTools and iPGMail on iPhone.

Talking about security, that is not what I targeted in the first place. I am still growing up (we are all growing up when it is related to security in my opinion), so things are going to change over time. It is probably far from perfect, but it is better than doing nothing.

By the way, if you found a typo, please fork and edit this post. Thank you so much! This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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