It’s time to make a 2016 New Years resolution that is all about how you use the Internet.
Things are not good right now. The open Internet is under attack. Privacy is being eroded in the name of security. Governments are attacking encryption and using censorship to silence anyone who disagrees with them or tries to stop them.
Here are six things you can do right now to join the fight for an open Internet in 2016:
- Choose encrypted services over non-encrypted ones. Apple’s iMessage is better than SMS because only you and the recipient can see the message thanks to strong encryption. Non-iPhone users looking for a cross-platform alternative should look at Signal which offers fully encrypted messaging with open source, audited code. Tell your friends to join you in using secure, encrypted messaging services instead of Facebook Messenger, What’s App or other services.Remember that if the provider of your messaging service is targeting ads to you, they are able to read your messages. If they can read them, then they can provide the full history to those who ask for it. Apple, Signal and others can’t and won’t decrypt your messages. Ask yourself which service you should be using.
- Switch your search engine. Google uses every single search you do to better figure out who you are (again, to target ads). Switch to DuckDuckGo and use a search engine that is not tracking everything you do on the Internet. The results are just as good as Google, minus all the tracking.
- Think about how much you share. It’s amazing how much you can learn about someone just by looking at their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Please, don’t stop sharing, but do think about how much you share and with whom you share it.Remember that regardless of your privacy settings, Facebook and other social networks have access to all of your data and are happily selling your profile to advertisers for huge money. Think of the social networks as your closest friend when you share, and then consider whether you really want them (and advertisers) to know you the same way your real closest friends do.
- Opt out of tracking. Use Ghostery on your web browser and install a content blocker like Purify on your iPhone. Despite what the media might try to tell you, ad blockers are not about blocking ads. It’s about blocking the tracking that comes along with ads. Don’t trade your personal information to advertisers and get an ad in return. Opt out of tracking and send advertisers and media companies the message that you are okay with ads, but not with the tracking that they’ve bundled along with them.
- Get a VPN. This is a simple to install and use app that creates a secure, encrypted tunnel over the Internet for your data. It prevents snooping of your data as it passes through the various servers and routers on its way from your computer to whatever service you are connecting to. I use VyprVPN (500MB free each month) but Cloak is another one I’ve tried and like (free 30-day trial). Both are available for your computer and smartphone.
- Speak out in real life. Do more than just signing a petition or two. Get involved and be an actual, out-loud vocal proponent for privacy, encryption and an open Internet. Speak out against those who don’t share those values. Take a pass on services that aren’t private, secure and encrypted from the start and choose and use services that are. Tell your friends why you make that choice.You may not have anything you think is worth hiding, but consider that it’s quite possible to assemble a very detailed personal profile from your activity online. Imagine the value of that to an insurance company, new employer, or literally anyone looking to use some piece of information against you. It’s not just your chats or Internet history. It’s your health data, financial info contacts and more.
Join the fight, or risk losing the open Internet
This stuff is incredibly important and 2016 is shaping up to be a defining year in the fight against those who want to crush the open Internet in an effort to control it. Take a stand along with millions and millions of others. Don’t just change your avatar or post some links to Facebook.
Step up and do something real.