Although maintaining complete anonymity on the internet is very difficult, there are plenty of tools and alternative services out there that can help protect your personal data. Below we’ve listed five of our favourite services and tools that are privacy conscious. Of course, using the below suggestions will not guarantee 100% protection from privacy intrusions, but they’re a good place to start!
Duck Duck Go
If you want to get out of the Google eco-system then the first thing you’ll want is a search engine alternative. You can find big brand alternatives such as Bing and Excite, but DuckDuckGo is one of the few search engines that takes user privacy seriously. DuckDuckGo promises that it won’t track users or employ filter bubbles - tailoring your search results based on your account history. This anti-Google attitude has been gaining DuckDuckGo a great deal of publicity and the search engine recent broke the million visitors per day milestone. DuckDuckGo also offers a bunch of handy tools such as metric conversions, common calculations and stock price info.
Ghostery is an add-on that originally launched on Mozilla’s Firefox browser and is now available for Chrome, IE and Opera (as well as a standalone app for iOS). Along with DoNotTrack, Ghostery is one of the best privacy-orientated add-ons available for browsers. Ghostery essentially blocks tracking from ad-companies via cookie blocking and cookie protection. The add-on also gives you a list of all the ad networks, data companies and publishers tracking your browser on any given page. It’s a great tool, but it can cause some pages to load incorrectly and mess-up social sharing buttons (if you’re into that kind of thing).
If you’re looking for an email service that takes privacy seriously HushMail is a good option. However it’s not perfect. Hushmail has to comply with court-ordered warrants from law enforcement, just like any other email provider (and it drew a lot of criticism for this). If you want more privacy over the content of your emails then you can use Mozilla Thunderbird in combination with an encryption tool like Enigmail. There’s also Lavabit, which promises a privacy-orientated email service, but its servers are located in the US, which some say has less-stringent requirements for law enforcement access than Canada, where Hushmail is located.
Diaspora was originally billed as a Facebook-killer back in 2010 when it first started out. That scenario is looking ever more unlikely, as the project was fraught with difficulties while Facebook has gone from strength-to-strength. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a social network that gives you control of your personal data – via a decentralised network - then Diaspora still a good choice. You could also try Friendica as another privacy-orientated social network. A user in the comments section also recommends the decentralised social network Tent.
Of course, you’re not really anonymous online unless you use a VPN of some sort to shield your IP address. Tor is a free VPN that’s aimed at protecting people from state-level privacy intrusions. Tor is a great way to protect yourself online, but it isn’t perfect. The main problem is it allows anyone to set-up ‘entry’ and ‘exit’ nodes, through which your data travels (most people setting up nodes have good intentions, but if you don’t know who they are then how can you trust them not to spy on your traffic?). The other problem with TOR is that it generally offers slower speeds than a privately run VPN. Of course, we have to shamelessly toot our own horn here and recommend IVPN if you’re looking for a paid privacy-orientated VPN, with no bandwidth restrictions.
Yes we know the headline says top 5, but as commentators have pointed out, omitting I2P is a bit of an oversight. I2P is an overlay network that allows other software to use it for anonymous communication, including web browsing, sending messages, blogging and file transfers. It’s compatible with BitTorrent clients such as Vuze and the I2P instant messenger. I2P is currently in Beta, but the developers say the code is stable enough for use.