Data Protection Day: Pirate MEPs present 7 privacy tools for daily use
Happy Data Protection Day! This international day was established in 2007 in order to raise awareness for how our personal data is used (and abused) online. However, for the European Pirates, every day is Data Protection Day. We try to protect our personal information and communication as good as possible and want to be a role model for everyone else. That’s why our Members of the European Parliament will take the opportunity to recommend practical tools and apps they use in their daily lives to use the Internet more securely.
Matrix – Messenger
Recently, WhatsApp made the news for trying to implement a poorly explained update to their terms and services. Even though the update wouldn’t have changed much of the messenger app’s already poor privacy policies, it made users aware of how much data it collects and shares with Facebook: phone numbers, profile name, metadata about the sender, recipient and time of the message and so on. No one should have to give away so much information just for messaging a friend or colleague. That’s why the Pirates’ messenger of choice is Matrix.
Matrix is an open-source project for secure real-time communication. The messenger uses decentralized peer-to-peer communication, which means that no central server stores text messages. This makes it impossible for third parties to receive information from the network’s creator and limits the data even a skilled hacker is able to retrieve significantly. Combined with end-to-end encryption, which ciphers your message before it is sent and then deciphers it after it is received, many experts as well as our MEPs regard Matrix as one of the safest messengers to use. Clients are available for Windows, Mac OS and for Apple and Android mobile devices.
Briar – Messenger
Similar to Matrix, Briar is a free open-source communication software which relies on decentralization and encryption. However, the messenger app only works on android devices. Initially designed for activists, journalists and everyone who needs to maintain professional secrecy, Briar doesn’t rely on a cloud-based system but stores messages securely on your device. The biggest advantage of Briar, however, is that it doesn’t necessarily require access to the internet. If the internet blacks out, you can connect directly with nearby contacts by using Bluetooth or the same Wi-Fi network. If the internet works, Briar syncs via the Tor network, preventing outsiders from any access to your metadata or content.
Mastodon – Social network
Mastodon is the Pirates’ number one alternative to Twitter and similar commercial social networks. The network is a free open-source microblogging software, where users can post public or private messages with 500 characters – so-called “toots”. Mastodon is a pioneer in the field of user-friendly social media, as it uses a decentralized system putting data protection first. All data is distributed across many self-hosted servers with different topics known as instances, who function next to each other but also work together in a federated environment. After a new user chooses an instance, the system provides three ways to browse messages: looking at your home feed with the people you follow, looking at your public feed where all messages of your instance are listed, or looking at the federated feed with all news from the instances yours is connected with.
DuckDuckGo – Search engine
We are big fans of DuckDuckGo (DDG), not only because of its name. DDG is a privacy-oriented search engine that doesn’t track or store your IP addresses or personal information. Therefore, it is impossible to create a profile based on your search history. For its search engine, DDG uses a web crawler, DuckDuckBot, as well as search results from Bing, Yahoo and Wikipedia. You can use DuckDuckGo by navigating to their website or simply installing the plug-in for Firefox or Chrome. It is also the default search engine for the Tor browser. The company claims that it doesn’t know how many users they have, as they don’t track them. However, only a week ago, DuckDuckGo was able to hit 100 million daily searches for the first time in its existence, proving its increasing popularity. Other privacy-friendly search engines used by Pirate MEPs include startpage.com which relies on Google search results.
Syncthing – File synchronizer
Syncthing is a continuous file synchronization program which proves to be a secure and free alternative to Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive. However, the open-source program uses decentralized peer-to-peer file synchronization, which means it doesn’t require a third-party cloud provider. Syncthing works without IP addresses or advanced configuration and allows you to synchronize as many files and folders as you want with as many people you want. Or you can just use it for file sharing between your own devices. Furthermore, the tool is not only completely transparent with its code, but its development and usage are always open for discussion. You can download Syncthing to all common operating systems such as Windows, MacOS, Linux as well as to your Android mobile device.
Jitsi – Videoconferencing solution
In the age of the pandemic, we all know about the struggles of videoconferencing tools like Skype or Zoom. In addition to that, Skype or Google don’t even hide the fact that they are keeping track of the metadata of your calls and messages. Jitsi is different, as the main priority of the free open-source platform is protecting your privacy. Looking back at 18 years of development, the software gives you the possibility to make voice calls, video calls and write in instant messages and group chats. Jitsi provides all its features with end-to-end encryption and you don’t even have to create an account to use it. Without sharing your email address, you can get started right away by using the web app or by downloading it to any of your devices. For most Pirates, it is the first choice for private and business communication. Several PIrate parties self-host public and free-to-use Jitsi instances, for example the Czech pirates and the German pirates.
FoxyProxy Firefox and Chrom(ium) add-ons
While the TOR Browser is the most privacy-friendly choice for browsing the web, some sites will not work with it. For non-sensitive activities the FoxyProxy add-on will allow you to enable and disable proxy servers of your choice (including the TOR service) in commonly used browsers. Some Pirate MEPs also use log-free commercial VPN services to anonymise their Internet use.
More privacy tools
To discover more tools and alternatives to commercial services that will protect your privacy and security online, check out privacytools.io or De-google-ify the Internet.
Your privacy tools
Let us and our readers know which other privacy tools you use on a daily basis.