Since the lid was blown off the US Government’s PRISM program last week, there has been an explosion in concern over internet security and privacy. With this has come plenty of advice on internet security and privacy. Some of these measures are quite easy to enact and make perfect sense for everyone to do (disabling location services on your mobile devices and using HTTPS everywhere by the Electronic Freedom Foundation and the Tor Project are perfect examples). Another debate that has erupted over the past week is whether we should be more scared of tracking by governments or corporations. Personally, while I believe the government is more scary than corporations, this argument is a bit futile. Whether for nefarious reasons or not, governments will track us regardless. And giving up some of the conveniences and services offered by modern technology and corporations is a huge (sometimes impossible) price to pay just for privacy. Furthermore, one thing that is abundantly clear is that government receive a lot of our information, willingly or unwillingly, from corporations. But there is something we can do and it is relatively simple; fragment our product usage. The more products you use from different providers the harder it will be for corporations and governments to build a cogent picture of you.
Email is a perfect example; I have more than fifteen email accounts and I use five different email providers. Only a few of these email addresses are used frequently but all of them can be used at any time and I use them to split up my correspondence, receipts and statements. As a result, no company has access to all of my vital information, and, therefore, nor would a government who struck a deal with one of my email providers. If you can use “secure” and independent email services like those offered by Hushmail, Riseup or Australia Post, and use open source email clients like Thunderbird, so much the better.
Similarly, I currently have four different internet browsers installed on my computer, two on my mobile devices, and I am now researching the offerings of the Tor Project. You don’t necessarily have to overlook popular browsers like Chrome, but how hard is it to split up your internet activity and use something like Firefox as your main browser? To add further fragmentation and throw more spanners in the works, all of my browsers use different search engines (I use Google, Bing, Blekko and Duckduckgo – Yahoo search has long been powered by Bing), I have extensions like Ghostery installed whenever possible, and I make sure that my privacy settings are turned up as high as it can be without making browsing unbearable (often you do need to enable cookies).
Fragmenting your products is not hard once you start. With email clients on computers and mobile devices it is a breeze to keep track of multiple email addresses. It is quite easy to use a combination of cloud services (Dropbox, Evernote, iCloud, Google Drive, Skydrive etc.) so that not all your eggs are in one basket. It is simple to find alternatives to popular services like Google maps – and sometimes more rewarding. You might even find it useful to see the different results that pop up when you use alternatives to Google Search. It does not take any technical skill to fragment your product usage (God knows I have none), all it takes is a little effort. At the very least you will have accomplished freedom from targeted advertising.